Desire for death near the end of life: the role of depression, anxiety and pain

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2005 Jul-Aug;27(4):258-62. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2005.02.004.


Objective: This study evaluated the desire of patients with advanced cancer for hastened death to determine its relationship to psychological distress, anxiety and pain.

Methods: One hundred twenty terminally ill cancer patients were surveyed from June to November 2003 at a palliative care unit in Athens, Greece. Greek versions of the Schedule of Attitudes Toward Hastened Death (G-SAHD), the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (G-HADS) and the Brief Pain Inventory were administered.

Results: Significant correlations were seen between desire for hasten death and HADS-Depression (r=.605; P<.0005) and HADS-Anxiety (r=.636; P<.0005) scores. Results of multiple regression analyses showed that the HADS-Depression scale (B=.443; P<.0005) as well as the HADS-Anxiety scale (B=.326; P<.0005) and the interaction between HADS-Depression and opioids (B=-.159; P=.012), but not pain intensity, pain-related interference, age, sex, patient's performance status as defined by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group as well as the interactions between average pain and opioids and average pain and HADS-Depression, were significant predictors of G-SAHD scores.

Conclusions: In terminally ill cancer patients, depression and anxiety as well as the interaction between HADS-Depression and opioids appeared to have a significant impact on the desire for hastened death while pain does not. Effective management of psychological symptoms seems to be an important aspect of adequate palliative care in order to reduce the desire for hastened death.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Data Collection
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Greece
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*