Older men, especially those diagnosed with mental health conditions, living alone and who have been hospitalised for self-injury, should be key targets for suicide prevention efforts, according to a new study.
New research from Flinders University and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) shows 354 older people who were accessing or waiting for aged care services died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, 0.7% of more than 530,000 nationwide.
Findings revealed that fewer than 20% of the older people who died by suicide received any Medicare-subsidised mental health service in the year before their death.
Older Australians most likely to die by suicide were older men, people who had previously been hospitalised for self-injury, those living at home alone, and those with existing mental health conditions. People living in residential aged care were least likely to die by suicide, likely because they are frailer and have more frequent monitoring, researchers suggest.
According to co-author Dr Monica Cations, a Senior Research Fellow with the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University, each death by suicide among older Australians is “potentially preventable”, with evidence suggesting most deaths by suicide occur due to psychological distress.
“There has been very little research about this vulnerable population of Australians. Older adults have great difficulty accessing mental health support, which could be powerful in preventing their death by suicide,” says Dr Cations.
Of great concern, Dr Cations says, is that many of the older people who died by suicide during the study period were waiting to access aged care services. The negative impacts of long wait times for aged care services were similarly highlighted in the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, emphasising the importance of continued efforts to reduce the hold up.
In Australia, the suicide rate among men aged 85 and older is three times that observed in the general population, so the cohort should be key targets for suicide prevention efforts, Dr Cations argues.
“Effectively preventing suicide in older adults requires multicomponent interventions that target social isolation, clinical symptoms, access to lethal methods, stigma, help seeking, and access to mental health services,” says Dr. Cations.
Read the full study here