Understanding why older people develop a wish to die: a qualitative interview study

Crisis. 2011;32(4):204-16. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000078.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Aged / psychology*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Change Events
  • Loneliness
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide Prevention*