Desire to die among older people often passes, study finds

Researchers from Trinity College have found that the “wish to die” among older people living in the community is often “transient” and is strongly linked to underlying issues of depression and feelings of loneliness.

A survey of more than 8,100 people aged over 50 found that 4 per cent of people surveyed expressed a wish to die. However, almost three-quarters of those who initially expressed this desire did not feel the same when researchers revisited the issue with them two years later.

60 per cent of those who reported a wish to die had co-existing depressive symptoms while half of those who stated they wanted to die had been diagnosed with depression. This indicates a “high burden of undetected mental health problems” in the group, the authors said.

Almost three-quarters of those with a wish to die were also lonely, the study found. Those who subsequently said two years later that they no longer felt the wish to die reported that their symptoms of loneliness and depression had improved.

The report’s authors noted that their findings are particularly pertinent given the consideration of an assisted suicide Bill by the Oireachtas and have called for an “enhanced focus on improving access to mental health care and addressing social isolation in older people”.

Prof Rose Anne Kenny, head of medical gerontology at Trinity College, said that almost two-thirds of participants who expressed a wish to die in the study had at least one chronic illness which meets the criteria for a terminal illness as proposed in the Bill.