The 2003 SARS outbreak and suicide among older adults
Leo Sher, M.D.
A research article, “The impact of epidemic outbreak: the case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and suicide among older adults in Hong Kong” was published 10 years ago in Crisis – The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention (1).
There was a significant increase in suicide deaths among those aged 65 and over during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong (1,2). The authors of the study examined the mechanisms of how the SARS outbreak resulted in a higher suicide rate among older adults in Hong Kong.
The authors found that SARS-related older adult suicide victims were more likely to be afraid of contracting the disease and had fears of disconnection. The suicide motives among SARS-related suicide victims were associated with stress over fears of being a burden to their families during the negative impact of the epidemic. Social disengagement, psychological stress, and anxiety at the time of the SARS epidemic among a certain group of older adults lead to a very high rate of suicide deaths. One third of SARS-related suicide victims experienced social isolation during the SARS outbreak.
The authors suggest that psychological well-being of the community, in particular older adults, should be taken into account when developing epidemic control measures to combat the future outbreaks of diseases. In addition, it is important to alert family members to vulnerable individuals who are at potential risk because of their psychiatric or medical illnesses. Promoting an active and socially engaged lifestyle after retirement holds the key to healthy aging.
- Yip PS, Cheung YT, Chau PH, Law YW. The impact of epidemic outbreak: the case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and suicide among older adults in Hong Kong. Crisis. 2010;31(2):86-92. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000015.
- Chan SM, Chiu FK, Lam CW, Leung PY, Conwell Y. Elderly suicide and the 2003 SARS epidemic in Hong Kong. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2006 Feb;21(2):113-8.