Background: Quantitative studies in several European countries showed that 10-20% of older people have or have had a wish to die.
Aims: To improve our understanding of why some older people develop a wish to die.
Methods: In-depth interviews with people with a wish to die (n = 31) were carried out. Through open coding and inductive analysis, we developed a conceptual framework to describe the development of death wishes. Respondents were selected from two cohort studies.
Results: The wish to die had either been triggered suddenly after traumatic life events or had developed gradually after a life full of adversity, as a consequence of aging or illness, or after recurring depression. The respondents were in a situation they considered unacceptable, yet they felt they had no control to change their situation and thus progressively "gave up" trying. Recurring themes included being widowed, feeling lonely, being a victim, being dependent, and wanting to be useful. Developing thoughts about death as a positive thing or a release from problems seemed to them like a way to reclaim control.
Conclusions: People who wish to die originally develop thoughts about death as a positive solution to life events or to an adverse situation, and eventually reach a balance of the wish to live and to die.