1 Feb 2019

Elderly mental health linked to physical illnesses - study

11:58 am on 1 February 2019

Advocates for the elderly want better mental health interventions, after new research found those over 65 are more likely to report physical illness as a stressor before self-harming.

Elderly woman's hands, care for the elderly concept

Those over 65 are more likely to report physical illness as a stressor before self-harming. Photo: 123rf.com

Meanwhile, those in the 45-64 age group were likely to report relationship separation and financial trouble as a stressor.

The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, which looked at three years of data on self-harm cases from Middlemore Hospital, found suicidal intent was also more common among the older 65 plus demographic.

They also had lower survival rates in the 12 months following their self-harm attempt.

Overseas research quoted in the study found older people often had less attempts, before dying from suicide.

"International studies have estimated at least four suicide attempts for every late-life suicide, in contrast to 25 attempts for every suicide in younger populations," the study said.

One of the authors, psychiatrist Gary Cheung, said older people tended to be more determined when they attempted suicide.

"We have to treat this group very carefully, self-harm in an older person is a suicide attempt until proven otherwise, because of the high risk of further self-harm in the very near future," he said.

Dr Cheung said he'd like to see better screening when they present for other treatment.

"Because physical illness is very much associated with self-harm and suicide, be that chronic pain or cardiac or respiratory conditions, so an older person with a chronic illness should be screened routinely for depression," he said.

He said his previous research found a significant proportion of older people had presented themselves to their GP within a month of killing themselves.

"They do go to their GPs but often for their physical problems, so how do we use that as an opportunity for intervention?"

Age Concern's educator on elder abuse and neglect Hanny Naus said the research pointed to the need for better support services for the psychological and emotion needs of older people.

"If people are less able to get out themselves, the chances of being able to attend appointments or be part of groups, the barriers are higher, unless they're taken to those services or offered in homes" she said.

However, she said from Age Concern's experience DHBs are becoming less able to offer people those services in their own home.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.