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Int Psychogeriatr. 2012 Sep;24(9):1393-401. doi: 10.1017/S1041610212000312. Epub 2012 Mar 26.

When elderly people give warning of suicide.

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  • 1RVTS, Oslo University Hospital, Aker, Oslo, Norway.



The study has a dual objective: (1) to investigate the extent to which, and how and to whom, elderly people gave warning (according to the definition of the term given by the American Association of Suicidology) prior to suicide; (2) to investigate how these warnings were perceived by the recipients of them, and what reactions the recipients had to the warnings.


This is a psychological autopsy study based on qualitative interviews. Sixty-three informants were interviewed about 23 suicides by individuals aged over 65 in Norway. The informants comprised relatives, general practitioners (GPs) and home-based care nurses. In general, the analysis of the interviews follows the systematic text condensation method.


The interviews contained four main themes regarding reactions to the warnings: "not taken seriously," "helplessness," "exhaustion," and "acceptance." A total of 14 of the 23 elderly people gave warning before the suicides occurred. The warnings were given to relatives (11), home-based care nurses (5), and GPs (2).


Even though more than half of the elderly people had given warning (most frequently to relatives) before the suicide, the warnings did not initiate preventive measures. Together with passive attitudes, the lack of recognition of both the risk of suicide and the opportunities for treatment prevented possible measures being implemented. The paper discusses the grounds for the reactions as well as how suicide warnings given by elderly people can be taken seriously.

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