A revisit on older adults suicides and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Hong Kong

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2008 Dec;23(12):1231-8. doi: 10.1002/gps.2056.


Background: The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 had an enormous impact on Hong Kong society and the suicide rate was also at its historical high, 18.6 per 100,000. The most significant increase was found among the older adults aged 65 or above.

Methods: Poisson Regression Models were used to examine impact of the SARS epidemic on older adults suicides in Hong Kong. A complete set of the suicide statistics for the period 1993-2004 from the Coroners' Court were made available for the analysis. Chi-square test was used to compare the profile of the older adult suicide cases in the pre-SARS, peri-SARS and post-SARS periods.

Results: It showed an excess of older adults suicides in April 2003, when compared to the month of April of the other years. A trough, instead of the usual summer peak, was observed in June, suggesting some of the older adults suicides might have been brought forward. On a year basis, the annual older adult's suicide rates in 2003 and 2004 were significantly higher than that in 2002, suggesting the suicide rate did not return to the level before the SARS epidemic. Based on the Coroners' suicide death records, overall severity of illness, level of dependency and worrying of having sickness among the older adult suicides were found to be significantly different in the pre-SARS, peri-SARS and post-SARS periods.

Conclusion: The SARS epidemic was associated with an increase in older adults' suicide rate in April 2003 and some suicide deaths in June 2003 might have been brought forward. Moreover, an increase in the annual older adults' suicide rate in 2003 was observed and the rate in 2004 did not return to the level of 2002. Loneliness and disconnectedness among the older adults in the community were likely to be associated with the excess older adults' suicides in 2003. Maintaining and enhancing mental well being of the public over the period of epidemic is as important as curbing the spread of the epidemic. Attention and effort should also be made to enhance the community's ability to manage fear and anxiety, especially in vulnerable groups over the period of epidemic to prevent tragic and unnecessary suicide deaths.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / mortality
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Hong Kong / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Risk Factors
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / mortality
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*