Socio-demographic factors in elder suicide in England and Wales

Emily Grundy and Monica Mendes da Camara, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

[Project number 30002]

According to the WHO, suicide is the tenth cause of death in the world, and it is as common as traffic road accidents. Although the over-65 age group consists of 15% of the population in the UK it accounts for 25% of all suicide cases, The same scenario is seen in the United States where one elder suicide takes place every ninety minutes. As seen, elder suicide is quite a serious as well as a neglected issue, overshadowed by youth suicide.

There are a number of factors for elder suicide: physical illness, chronic pain, mental illness (mainly depression), retirement, social isolation, death of a spouse, and any previous attempt. Successful suicide among elderly people is quite high as they usually use more violent methods (especially men), have fragile physical health (poor recovery from the injuries inflicted) and suffer from social isolation (less likely to be found soon after attempt).

Several studies (Hoxey, 2000; Shah, 2001) have shown that elder suicide has declined in England and Wales, although the gender differential still remains - more male suicides than female. The decline in suicide rates is believed to be due to the implementation of reduction targets by the 'Healthier Nation' and programmes by the Royal College of Psychiatrics and the Royal College of General Practitioners to fight depression among the elderly.

The aim of the study is to do comparative analysis among the elderly (over 65) in England and Wales in terms of suicide.

To do such, it will be necessary to look at data obtained from census 1991 up to 1999. The possible variables of interest are demographic (age, sex, marital status, type of household - whether one was living alone, long-term standing illness, housing tenure, car ownership, deprivation levels), and year of widowhood (to see how many years into widowhood before one commits suicide).