Aging Holocaust Survivors at Risk of Suicide

Israeli study contradicts common myth

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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 10, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Holocaust survivors are at increased risk for suicide as they get older, according to an Israeli study of psychiatric patients.

The study of 921 patients over age 65 at the Abarbanel Mental Health Center in Tel Aviv revealed that 90 of the 374 Holocaust survivors had attempted suicide in the month before they were admitted to the center, compared to 45 of the 502 patients who experienced no World War II trauma.

The study, which appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, shows the need for suicide prevention strategies for elderly people who've suffered traumatic experiences in their lives.

Most of the Holocaust survivors in the study said their war experiences were the most significant stressor of their lives. The study authors said their findings contradict the long-held belief that suicide is rare among Holocaust survivors.

"Health-care professionals were often taught that within the concentration camps and in the aftermath of WWII, suicide was rare, and survivors had assumed an attitude of 'endurance,' thus negating the possibility of suicide," the study authors wrote.

"As aging of survivors is frequently associated with depression, reactivation of traumatic syndromes, physical disorders, loss and psychological distress, the possibility that this population is at increased risk of suicide needed to be studied," study author Dr. Yoram Barak, from the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, said in a prepared statement.

"Findings such as these underscore the need to better understand the factors leading to late-life depression and suicide, and to better screen for and prevent suicidal behavior among older adults who have suffered traumatic events earlier in their lives," Dr. Christopher Colenda, president-elect of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, added in a prepared statement.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about the elderly and suicide.

SOURCE: American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, news release, Aug. 8, 2005

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