Suicide risk assessment in elderly individuals
Tan, R.Q., Lim, C.S., Ong, H.S.
Suicide among elderly individuals is a common and concerning presentation in psychiatry. A local study reported a suicide rate of 31.3 per 100,000 per year among elderly individuals, with elderly Chinese men having the highest rate at 40.3 per 100,000 per year.(1) Although the number of suicides among individuals in other age groups in Singapore has dipped in recent years, the number of suicides among elderly individuals has continued to rise, reaching a highest record of 129 suicides in 2017.(2) This trend is particularly worrying and is expected to continue in view of the growing ageing population in Singapore. Studies show that over half of the patients who attempted suicide had visited a primary care physician within the four weeks preceding their suicide attempt.(3) This highlights the crucial role of primary care physicians in the early detection of suicidal elderly patients and in providing appropriate intervention. It also calls
for an imminent need to better understand the struggles of this unique and vulnerable population. A proper suicide risk assessment can help ascertain the level of suicide risk and guide its management accordingly. A delicate blend of knowing what questions to ask (i.e. hard skills) and how to ask them (i.e. soft skills) is required to successfully elicit the relevant information.