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The primary objectives of this study were to examine recent stressful life events and to explore possible social interaction factors across age groups in a population of suicides. Life events during the last 3 months preceding suicide (32 items) and factors related to social interaction (6 items) among 219 suicide victims aged 60 years and older were compared with those of 803 victims aged 20 to 59 years. The study population comprised all adult suicides who had life events interview data assessed as reliable by the interviewers in a nationwide total suicide population (1,397) of 1 year in Finland.
Differences in life events were found across age groups: Family discord, loss (separation, death), financial trouble, job problems, unemployment, and residence change were more common among younger victims, and somatic illness was more common among elderly victims. Age groups were similar with regard to proportions of persons living alone, availability of confidants and friends with common interests, and reports of loneliness. Similarly, few differences were found among persons aged 60–74 compared to age 75+ with regard to rates of life events, living alone, opportunities for social interaction, and complaints of loneliness. Loneliness was reported for persons who experienced loss among both younger and older suicides. In terms of age differences, younger men were more likely to have experienced job-related events,whereas older men were more likely to have had a somatic illness.
Somatic illness appeared to be the most important stressor in elderly suicides, particularly for men. Living alone and diminished opportunity for social interaction were not common factors in late-life suicides. Controlled studies with age matched comparisons are needed to further investigate how life events and social interaction factors vary in their risk for suicide across the life course.