Objectives: To see if selected clinical factors characterize suicides over the age of 60 differently from younger suicides and to ascertain if those factors characterize female and male suicides over the age of 60 differently.
Design: A group of consecutive suicides aged 60-88 was compared with groups of consecutive suicides aged 31-59 and 16-30. The female suicides aged 60-88 were also compared with the male suicides in that age group. Data were gathered from a variety of informants using a structured interview format.
Setting: The sample was gathered in San Diego County, California, between November, 1981 and September 1982.
Participants: The sample consisted of 204 consecutive suicides. These included 49 cases aged 60-88, 94 cases aged 31-59, and 61 cases aged 16-30. The older group consisted of 20 females and 29 males.
Measurements: Comparisons were made in demographic, diagnostic, and other clinical characteristics.
Results: There were no significant differences between female and male suicides over age 60 on any of the variables examined. Only minor differences were found among the groups in patterns of mental disorders diagnosed. Older suicides were significantly more likely to be married or, if not married, widowed than either of the two younger groups. They were also significantly more likely to be stressed by medical illness. They were significantly less likely to have financial problems as stressors. They were significantly less likely to have talked about suicide or made prior suicide attempts than either of the two younger groups.
Conclusions: Patterns of certain characteristics of suicides are very similar regardless of age. However, specific age-related differences occur that need to be considered when assessing suicide risk. Older suicides may be harder for clinicians to predict and, therefore, prevent.