Physical diseases as predictors of suicide in older adults: a nationwide, register-based cohort study

Annette Erlangsen, Elsebeth Stenager, Yeates Conwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The objective of the study was to examine the association between 39 physical diseases and death by suicide in older adults. Methods: Individual-level register data on all older adults aged 65 years and over living in Denmark during 1990–2009 (N = 1,849,110) were analysed. Rate ratios were calculated for 39 physical diseases while adjusting for period, age group, conjugal status, income, physical comorbidity, and psychiatric disorders. Results: In all, 4792 older adults aged 65+ died by suicide during the follow-up of >16 million person-years. Gastrointestinal cancer was linked to a rate ratio of 2.5 (95 % CI 1.9–3.5) in men while excess suicide risk for women with brain cancer was 3.5 (95 % CI 1.1–10.8) within three years of diagnosis. Men and women diagnosed with liver diseases within three years experienced a 2.7- (95 % CI 1.7–4.2) and 4.0- (95 % CI 2.5–6.4) fold higher risk of suicide, respectively, than those not diagnosed. Elevated risks of suicide were identified for lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, breast cancer, genital cancer, bladder cancer, lymph node cancer, epilepsy, cerebrovascular diseases, cataract, heart diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders (COPD), gastrointestinal disease, liver disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, prostate disorders, male genital disorders, and spinal fracture when compared to persons not diagnosed within three years. Conclusions: Multiple physical diseases were linked to increased risks of suicide in older adults. Increased attention to suicidal ideation and risk assessment might be warranted during the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1427-1439
Number of pages13
JournalSocial psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 30 2015


  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and Over
  • Chronic Illness
  • Disease
  • Physical disease
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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