Suicide mortality among the elderly is high in most Western countries. We investigated the characteristics of suicide victims 65 years or older in a nationwide psychological autopsy study, the research phase of the National Suicide Prevention Project in Finland. This study population included all completed suicides (N = 1,397, of whom 211 were 65 years or older) that occurred in Finland during a 12-month research period in 1987-1988. The elderly suicide victims were found to have used violent suicide methods more often than the young. Although almost 70% of the elderly persons who had committed suicide had been in contact with health care services during the month before their death, their suicidal intentions were rarely communicated in these contacts. They had been referred to psychiatric services less often than the young, and only 8% had received adequate antidepressive medication. The fact that most elderly suicides have contact with health care services during their final month suggests a potential for suicide prevention. However, the major obstacle to this is the poor recognition of mental disorders and suicidal ideation among the elderly.
(Received February 8 1999) (Accepted September 15 1999)