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Suicide increases with age and is most common
in persons aged 65 years and older. That age group accounts for 18% of all
suicides in the United States. As is true for younger individuals, the main
factor that can lead to suicide in older persons is major
depression, a medical illness to be distinguished from normal feelings
of sadness and grief after a loss, such as the death of a relative or friend.
Older persons are more likely to be socially isolated and have more physical
illnesses than younger people. They are also more likely to use highly lethal
methods of suicide, such as firearms.
The March 3, 2004, issue of JAMA includes an
article about an intervention program to prevent suicide in depressed elderly
Symptoms of major depression
Having at least 5 of these symptoms occurring nearly every day for at
least 2 weeks:
Feeling sad, down, or empty
Decreased interest or pleasure in activities
Appetite change with weight loss or gain
Sleeping more or less than normally
Fatigue or loss of energy
Feeling guilty or worthless
Difficulty thinking or concentrating
Being either slowed down or restless and irritable
Feeling that life is not worth living, or thoughts
of death or suicide
Additional risk factors for suicide in older persons
Heavy alcohol use
Presence of mental disorders in addition to depression
Presence of a serious physical illness
Social isolation, particularly after the death
of a spouse or close friend
Access to firearms
Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy (talk therapy) are very
helpful in treating depression in older persons and can prevent suicide. If
you or a loved one has symptoms of depression, see a doctor for an evaluation.
Depression is an illness that should be treated, not a sign of weakness or
For more information
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 888/333-2377http://www.afsp.org
American Psychiatric Association 888/357-7924http://www.psych.org
The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent
Suicide US Department of Health and Human Serviceshttp://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/call toaction
To find this and other JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link
on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com.
Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on psychiatric illness
in older adults was published in the June 7, 2000, issue; one on adolescent
suicide was published in the December 26, 2001, issue; and one
on depression was published in the June 18, 2003, issue.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Psychiatric
Association, National Institute of Mental Health, American Foundation for
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page
are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical
diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page
may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals
to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject
to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
TOPIC: MENTAL ILLNESSES
Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Suicide in Older Persons. JAMA. 2004;291(9):1158. doi:10.1001/jama.291.9.1158
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