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J Affect Disord. 2011 Jul;132(1-2):185-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2011.02.008. Epub 2011 Mar 21.

Suicide in later life: a comparison between cases with early-onset and late-onset depression.

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  • 1University of Manchester, Psychiatry Research Group, School of Community, Based Medicine, Manchester, UK.



Suicide rates are high in elderly people with depressive disorder. We compared behavioural, clinical and care characteristics of depressed elderly patients, aged 60years and over at the time of death by suicide, with an early-onset depression (EOD, onset before 60years) with those patients with a late age of onset (LOD).


From a 10-year national clinical survey of all suicides in England and Wales (n=13066) we identified 549 LOD cases, and 290 EOD cases. EOD and LOD cases were compared by logistic regression adjusted for age at suicide.


Method of suicide did not differ by age of onset of depression. LOD cases were significantly less likely to have a history of psychiatric admissions (OR=0.2 [0.1-0.3]), alcohol misuse (OR=0.6 [0.4-0.9]) and self-harm (0.6 [0.4-0.8]). LOD cases also had a lower prevalence of a psychiatric co-morbid diagnosis (0.6 [0.4-0.7]) and a lower prescription rate for psychotropic drugs other than antidepressants. Furthermore, the number of recent life-events was significantly higher (OR=1.4 [1.0-1.9]) in LOD while the frequency of recent self-harm was similar to EOD.


Although our study suggests that psychopathology of suicide among elderly depressed patients differs between EOD and LOD, the final pathway (via recent self-harm) to suicide may be similar in up to a quarter of patients in both groups. Our results suggest that strategies to enhance coping abilities and provision of support to negate the effects of life-events might be especially important in the prevention of suicide in LOD.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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