Background: Previous studies have examined suicidal ideation in older populations and emphasized the strong association with the presence of psychiatric disorder. However, associations with the presence of psychiatric disorder across the age range are unclear. Representative epidemiological estimates are needed.
Method: In a national survey of psychiatric morbidity in Great Britain, 8580 randomly selected adults were interviewed. Three questions were asked to assess suicidal ideation, and psychiatric disorder was identified using the revised Clinical Interview Schedule (CIS-R).
Results: Suicidal ideation was up to three times commoner in younger adults than in those aged 55-74 years but the odds of depression in those with suicidal thoughts was significantly greater in the older age group (p<0.01). Tiredness with life (p<0.01) and thoughts of death (p<0.01) were also more strongly associated with depression in the older age group. Other major associations of suicidal ideation for all ages were: smaller social support group, being divorced or separated, poor self-rated general health, and limitations in activities of daily living (ADL). Being single was an important factor for younger age groups, and widowhood for older people. Life events were also important in younger people, but not in those aged 55-74 years.
Conclusions: Suicidal thoughts and death wishes are comparatively more unusual in older people; however, they are more likely to be associated with clinical depression. In terms of suicide prevention this study emphasizes the importance of improving rates of recognition and treatment of depression in older people.