Suicide and the elderly


While a lot of emphasis is rightly put on the rising suicide figures among the young, adverse reactions to antidepressants can affect people of all ages. The youngest victim on my database thus far is a 10 year-old boy who hanged himself, while the oldest is a 97 year-old gentleman who also hanged himself. The median age of the victims is 47 years, which I found surprisingly high.

Looking at the elderly victims, there is a significant number of people taking their lives shortly after being diagnosed with a serious condition, such as cancer. From what I can see from the inquest reports, it seems that people are being prescribed antidepressants alongside the medication relevant to the condition, to help the patient cope with the upset of the diagnosis. So does this mean that prescription of antidepressants at this stage is not to counteract depression, but to pre-empt what may be the onset of depression some time in the future?

I have no medical experience at all, so I cannot have an opinion as to whether this a good idea or not.

Another occasion when antidepressants are routinely prescribed is upon bereavement. So it is that several suicides on my list have taken place shortly after the death of a loved one. My GP is one of the enlightened, who tells me that grief is not suited to treatment with SSRIs.

The difference between grief and depression is summed up in an article that I recently read, which contained the sentence that “depression is a heart full of emptiness, and grief is a heart full of love.”

Of course, when it comes to the inquest, the coroner will surmise that the elderly victim couldn’t face up to living with their condition, or couldn’t face life without a loved one. It would appear more convenient to attribute a suicide to a lack of resilience rather than to an inappropriate prescription of medication.

It is certainly more convenient for the pharmaceutical companies.

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