Background: While antidepressant-induced suicidality is a concern in younger age groups, there is mounting evidence that these drugs may reduce suicidality in the elderly. Regarding a possible association between other types of psychoactive drugs and suicide, results are inconclusive. Sedatives and hypnotics are widely prescribed to elderly persons with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance. The aim of this case-control study was to determine whether specific types of psychoactive drugs were associated with suicide risk in late life, after controlling for appropriate indications.
Methods: The study area included the city of Gothenburg and two adjacent counties (total 65+ population 210 703 at the start of the study). A case controlled study of elderly (65+) suicides was performed and close informants for 85 suicide cases (46 men, 39 women mean age 75 years) were interviewed by a psychiatrist. A population based comparison group (n = 153) was created and interviewed face-to-face. Primary care and psychiatric records were reviewed for both suicide cases and comparison subjects. All available information was used to determine past-month mental disorders in accordance with DSM-IV.
Results: Antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedatives and hypnotics were associated with increased suicide risk in the crude analysis. After adjustment for affective and anxiety disorders neither antidepressants in general nor SSRIs showed an association with suicide. Antipsychotics had no association with suicide after adjustment for psychotic disorders. Sedative treatment was associated with an almost fourteen-fold increase of suicide risk in the crude analyses and remained an independent risk factor for suicide even after adjustment for any DSM-IV disorder. Having a current prescription for a hypnotic was associated with a four-fold increase in suicide risk in the adjusted model.
Conclusion: Sedatives and hypnotics were both associated with increased risk for suicide after adjustment for appropriate indications. Given the extremely high prescription rates, a careful evaluation of the suicide risk should always precede prescribing a sedative or hypnotic to an elderly individual.