Suicidal ideation in elderly bereaved: the role of complicated grief

Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1997 Summer;27(2):194-207.


This study examined whether symptoms of complicated grief at baseline predicted suicidal ideation during a depressive episode in elderly bereaved individuals. Over a 17-month period, serial ratings of suicidal ideation, hopelessness, and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and complicated grief were obtained from 130 elderly participants who had lost their spouses within the past 2 years. Groups of active and passive suicidal ideators, as well as nonideator controls, were compared via analysis of variance (ANOVA) with respect to levels of complicated grief, depression, and anxiety. Elderly bereaved with both active and passive suicidal ideation were found to have higher symptomatic levels of depression, hopelessness, complicated grief, and anxiety, as well as lower levels of perceived social support, than nonideators at study entry. Fifty-seven percent of the patients with high complicated grief scores were found to be ideators during the follow-up versus 24% of the patients with low complicated grief scores. Patients with any suicidal ideation had higher symptom levels of depression, anxiety, and complicated grief when they were ideators as compared with periods when they denied ideation. Fifteen out of the 39 ideators had recurrent depressive episodes versus 5 of the 91 nonideators. Patients with a history of suicide attempts were more likely to be ideators after loss than other bereaved. Thus, the condition of having high levels of complicated grief symptoms and depressive symptoms appears to make bereaved individuals vulnerable to suicidal ideation. Detection of high levels of complicated grief could help clinicians identify patients who may be at heightened risk for suicide.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Bereavement*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / complications
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Concept
  • Sex Distribution
  • Social Support
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • Thinking / classification*
  • Time Factors