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Crisis. 2000;21(4):171-80.

Epidemiology and psychiatric morbidity of suicidal ideation among the elderly.

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  • 1Hospital for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Ernst Moritz Arndt University, Greifswald, Germany.


This study investigates the epidemiology and psychiatric morbidity of the wish to be dead, suicidal ideation, and suicidal intent in a group of elderly persons (> 70 years). A representative community sample of 516 persons aged 70 to 105 was extensively investigated by psychiatrists using the structured interview GMS-A and various other self-rating and observer-rating scales. Diagnoses were made according to DSM-III-R and clinical judgment. In a cross-section of this population, we found the following prevalence rates: At the time of the study, 14.7% of the elderly community had symptoms of tiredness of life, 5.4% wished to die, and 1% showed suicidal ideation or gestures. Depending on the intensity of suicidality, 80% to 100% were clinically diagnosed as suffering from psychiatric disorders and 50-75% showed symptoms fulfilling the criteria of at least one specific psychiatric diagnosis. Further, logistic regression analysis showed a significant influence of major depression and specific DSM-III-R diagnosis on suicidality in old age. Our conclusion is that suicidal ideation in the elderly is usually a sign of a mental illness warranting diagnosis and treatment rather than assisted suicide.

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