Psychological Medicine

Original Article

Life events and psychosocial factors in elderly suicides – a case–control study

E.  RUBENOWITZ  c1 a1, M.  WAERN  a1, K.  WILHELMSON  a1 and P.  ALLEBECK  a1
a1 From the Department of Social Medicine, Göteborg University and Institute of Clinical Neuroscience, Section of Psychiatry, Göteborg University, Sweden


Background. Stressful life events, such as family conflicts, separation, bereavement, somatic illness and financial problems are common antecedents of suicide. Studies on suicide among younger persons dominate the literature, despite the fact that a large proportion of suicides occur among elderly persons.

Methods. The occurrence of stressful life events was investigated among elderly suicide cases and population controls. The study was conducted in the southwestern part of Sweden and included 85 persons (46 males and 39 females) 65 years and above who had committed suicide from January 1994 to May 1996. Population controls (84 males and 69 females) were randomly selected. Interviews were carried out with the controls and with informants for the suicide cases. Questions on sociodemographic background, mental and somatic health status, and life events (0–6, 7–12 and 13–24 months preceding suicide/interview) were included in the interviews.

Results. Somatic illness, family discord and financial trouble were significant risk factors during all three time periods. Other risk factors were mental disorder, lower education, feelings of loneliness and previous suicide in the family. Factors associated with a decreased risk included active participation in organizations and having a hobby. Variables that remained in the multivariate logistic regression model were mental disorder (men, odds ratio (OR) = 62·4, 95% CI 17·9–217·5; women, OR = 55·9, 95% CI 14·1–222·3) and family discord (men, OR = 10·0, 95% CI 1·7–59·8; women, OR = 9·2, 95% CI 1·9–44·8).

Conclusions. Mental disorder and family discord were the two major risk factors for suicide among elderly men and women.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Eva Rubenowitz, Department of Social Medicine, Göteborg University, Vasa Sjukhus, SE 411 33 Göteborg, Sweden.