OBJECTIVE: The authors studied the 1-month frequency of suicidal
feelings among very old people. METHOD: A population sample (N = 345) of
nondemented 85-year-olds in Gothenburg, Sweden, were examined by a
psychiatrist. Suicidal feelings were rated by the system of Paykel et al.
Mental disorders were diagnosed according to DSM-III-R. RESULTS: Of the
mentally healthy subjects (N = 225), 4.0% had thought during the last month
that life was not worth living, 4.0% had had death wishes, and 0.9% had
thought of taking their own lives. None had seriously considered suicide.
The figures were higher among subjects with mental disorders (N = 120);
29.2% had thought that life was not worth living, 27.5% had had death
wishes, 9.2% had thought about taking their lives, and 1.7% had seriously
considered suicide. Among the subjects with mental disorders, including
depression, suicidal feelings were associated with greater use of
anxiolytics but not of antidepressants. Women who felt that life was not
worth living had a higher 3-year mortality rate than did women without
these feelings (43.2% versus 14.2%). This finding was independent of
concomitant physical and mental disorders. CONCLUSIONS: Mild suicidal
feelings are common in elderly subjects with metal disorders but infrequent
in the mentally healthy. The substantially higher mortality rate in women
who felt that life was not worth living, compared to women who did not,
suggests these feelings must be taken seriously. Because of the high
suicide rate in the elderly, there is a need for better diagnosis and
treatment of mental disorders in this age group.