Increased risk of attempted suicide among aging holocaust survivors

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Aug;13(8):701-4. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajgp.13.8.701.


Objective: Suicide rates are higher in elderly persons than in those at other phase of the life-cycle. The majority of World War II (WWII) veterans and Holocaust survivors still define their war experiences as being the "most significant stressor" of their lives. Aging of survivors is frequently associated with depression, reactivation of traumatic syndromes, physical disorders, loss, and psychological distress, possibly increasing the risk of suicide. The aim of the present study was to investigate, among a large cohort of elderly Holocaust survivors, whether their WWII experiences confer an increased risk of suicidal behavior.

Methods: All medical records of elderly patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Israel during a 5-year period were retrospectively evaluated. Suicidal patients were compared with patients who had not attempted suicide.

Results: Of 921 eligible patients, 374 were Holocaust survivors; 135 (14.6%) had attempted suicide in the month before admission. Ninety Holocaust survivors (24%) had attempted suicide, versus 45 of the 502 patients (8.2%) with no WWII experience. The risk of attempted suicide among Holocaust survivors was significantly increased.

Conclusion: Although these findings are from a highly selected sample, we suggest that aging Holocaust survivors are at increased risk of attempting suicide. The growth of the elderly population, of whom many had had traumatic life experiences, emphasizes the need to implement preventive strategies so that suicidal risk may be contained.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Holocaust / psychology*
  • Holocaust / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Jews / psychology
  • Jews / statistics & numerical data*
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Population Dynamics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Survivors / psychology
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data*