Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Suicidal Ideation in Older New Zealand Males (1991-2000)

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Suicidal Ideation in Older New Zealand Males (1991-2000)

Article excerpt

The present study investigated correlates of suicidal ideation in a nonclinical sample of 217 older men. Participants completed a self-report questionnaire including a suicidal ideation (SI) scale and other health and well-being measures. Suicidal ideation was related to income, stress, loneliness, hopelessness, depression, and negative affect, but was unrelated to age, self-reported health, or social support. Those reporting a previous psychological problem had significantly higher suicidal ideation scores. The scores on the SI scale were restricted to a narrow range, suggesting for the majority of participants thoughts of suicide were rare; however, ideation was related to other indices of well-being which have relevance for the older adult.

Keywords: older men, suicidal ideation

The prevention of suicide and the identification of those at risk is receiving increased public attention as well as being a growing public health issue. However, much research and associated media attention has focused mainly on the increased incidence of suicide among the adolescent and young adult population (e.g., Beautrais, Joyce, & Mulder, 1994). Little emphasis, at least in the media, has been placed on suicide and/or suicide ideation in the older person.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death from injury in New Zealand, and attempts at committing suicide constitute the seventh leading cause of injury requiring hospitalisation (Coggan, 1997). Males accounted for more than three-quarters of Suicide deaths in 1997 (440 males, 121 females), and internationally, between 1978 and 1998, New Zealand males had the second highest suicide rate of 12 selected countries, behind Finland (Ministry of Health, 2001).

Recent New Zealand data shows suicide rates for adults aged 65 years and over have been variable between 1988 and 1997. Suicide rates for adults aged 65 years and over actually decreased by 39 percent between 1988 and 1997; however, the male rate for 65 years and over was more than seven times higher than the female rate in 1997 (Ministry of Health, 2001).

There is some suggestion that suicide is underreported in older adults (Melding, 1997). Melding (1997) suggests that underreporting in this age group reflects society's attitude that older people have lived their lives and have a moral right to end their lives. Another notion is that suicide in this age group is a result of a rational and carefully thought-out plan. This implies that the consequence of such a death is less of a burden on society and therefore is somewhat justifiable (Kerkhof, Visser, Diekstra, & Hirschhorn, 1991).

Ideas or behaviour that suggest a possibility of a threat to the individual's life are collectively known as suicidal ideation. The occurrence of suicidal ideation is higher than attempted or completed suicide with general population estimates of rate of occurrence ranging from 5.4% (Vandivort & Locke, 1979) to between 14 and 16% (Hintikka, Pesonen, Saarinen, Tanskanen, Lehtonen, & Viinameaeki, 2001; Schwab, Warheit, & Holzer, 1972). Kirby, Bruce, Radic, Coakley, and Lawlor (1997) in a community sample of older adults (65-95 years) found that serious suicidal feelings were rare, with only 0.2% of subjects expressing a pervasive wish to die; however, 15.5% reported that life was not worth living. Feelings of hopelessness or suicidality were present in 18.4% of subjects aged 65-74 compared with 14.8% of those over 75 years. Barnow and Linden (1997) in a group of 70- to 105-year-old Germans found 5% of people wished to die and 0.5-1.0% showed suicidal behaviour or gestures. These figures increased with age. In a Swedish sample of older adults with a mean age of 84.3 years, Forsell, Jorm, and Winblad (1997) found 13.3% of subjects had had suicidal thoughts during the past two weeks (10.8% fleetingly and 2.5% frequently). Suicidal thoughts were associated with increased disability in daily living, institutionalisation, visual problems, and use of psychotropic drugs. …

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