Preventative screening, a must

New research findings from the University of Western Australia suggests that the suicide rate among the older cohort could be reduced if seniors with depression and anxiety were screened for the presence of suicidal thoughts.

By Yasmin Noone

Older people with depression and anxiety should be screened for the presence of suicidal thoughts and given appropriate social support, if the suicide rate of the ageing demographic is to ever be curbed, according to new findings from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

The Australian study, published in the December issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that if suicide prevention strategies remain limited to depression management strategies then mental health professionals might fail to significantly decrease the number of people contemplating suicide in their later years.

The research found that if adequate support was available for older people at risk of suicide, there would be 38 per cent less people contemplating an attempt.

Leading investigator and Chair in Old Age Psychiatry, UWA Winthrop Professor Osvaldo Almeida, said that thoughts about death and self-harm in old age are commonly linked to depression.

But, he added, the study’s results highlight that other risk factors may be “just as important” in reducing the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among older people.

“The incidence of suicidal thoughts in older adults is often understated and overlooked by family and friends because many people in society seem to believe that mental health issues are just part of growing old,” Professor Almeida said about the results of the study, Factors associated with suicidal thoughts in a large community study of older adults.

“…Facilitating the development of supportive and meaningful social networks might have a much greater beneficial impact.”

The study also showed that suicidal thoughts were also seven times more common in older adults with concurrent anxiety and depression than in those without.

“Prevalent and past mood disorders seem to be valid targets for indicated interventions designed to reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviour,” the study states.

“However, our data indicate that social disconnectedness and stress account for a larger proportion of cases than mood disorders.

“Should these associations prove to be causal, then interventions that succeeded in addressing these issues would contribute the most to reducing suicidal ideation and, possibly, suicidal behaviour in later life.”

The study aimed to determine the independent association between suicidal ideation in later life and demographic, lifestyle, socioeconomic, psychiatric and medical factors.

Researchers surveyed 21,290 community-dwellers, aged 60-101 years old about their health, psychosocial, lifestyle and clinical data. Of the people interviewed, almost five per cent acknowledged the presence of suicidal thoughts.

Other attributable factors that affected suicidal thoughts included past depressive disorder (23 per cent), pain (13.7 per cent), no religious practice (11.4 per cent) and living alone (8.1 per cent), as well as being male, having a higher standard of education, smoking, financial strain, childhood physical abuse, family history of suicide and a past suicide attempt.

The study was financially supported by grants received from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and beyondblue Australia.

If you or someone you know is living with depression or anxiety or needs social support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 11 or visit

Tags: almeida, anxiety, beyondblue-australia, depression, national-health-and-medical-research-council-of-australia, suicide, the-british-journal-of-psychiatry, university-of-western-australia, uwa,

1 thought on “Preventative screening, a must

  1. Lets not forget government policies at present that are causing unbearable stress on those people in this age bracket or approaching that age. Forcing people with chronic health problems and pain, irrespective of circumstances to job search weekly to get them off Newtstart, without actually providing them with appropriate physiotherapy and hydrotherapy to get them mobile is cruel. Yet this is what the Federal Government has ordered Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services to do. NO any job is better than no job is an old wives tale without substance. Many older Australians are relying on public transport live alone and are barely making ends meet, yet are punished to get the budget back into surplus. Shame!!!

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