Completed suicide among older patients in primary care practices: A controlled study

Yeates Conwell, Jeffrey M. Lyness, Paul Duberstein, Christopher Cox, Larry Seidlitz, Andrea DiGiorgio, Eric D. Caine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To determine whether physical and psychiatric illness, functional status, and treatment history distinguish older primary care patients who committed suicide from those who did not. DESIGN: A case-control study using data collected by psychological autopsies of suicides and prospective patient interviews for controls. SETTING: Primary care practices in Monroe County, NY. PARTICIPANTS: Forty-two suicides aged 60 years and older who visited a primary care provider within 30 days of death and 196 patients aged 60 years and older from a group practice of general internal medicine (n = 115) or family medicine (n = 81). MEASUREMENTS: Psychiatric diagnosis; depressive symptom severity; physical health and function; psychiatric treatment history. RESULTS: Completed suicides had more depressive illness (P = .001), physical illness burden (P = .0002), and functional limitations (P = .0001) than controls and were more likely to be prescribed antidepressants (P = .004), anxiolytic agents (P = .0001), and narcotic analgesics (P = .022). Among depressed subjects, affective symptom severity (P < .0001) and emotional dysfunction (P < .0001) distinguished suicide completers. However, physical health, overall function, and treatments received did not differ between groups. CONCLUSIONS: The primary care setting is an important venue for late life suicide prevention. Primary care providers should be well prepared to diagnose and treat depression in their older patients. Additional research is needed concerning the interactions of physical health, functional status, and depressive symptoms in determining suicide risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-29
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Affective disorder
  • Depression
  • Primary care
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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