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Patients aged 55 and over who were referred to a general hospital between 1976 and 1987 because of self‐poisoning or self‐injury were studied. The 675 individuals comprised 8.7% of suicide attempters of all ages. The mean annual rate of attempts in the 55‐64 year age group was almost double that of the 65+ age group. In the younger age group the female:male ratio of rates for the whole study period was 1.3, whereas in the older age group it was close to unity. Rates were highest in the divorced of both sexes and also high in single and widowed males. Married males had particularly low rates. Relatively few people were receiving psychiatric care at the time of their attempts. There was no evidence of any major change in rates of attempted suicide during the study period, unlike in younger people in whom rates have declined. However, there were changes in the substances used for self‐poisoning, with a very marked decline in the use of barbiturates and increasing use of non‐opiate analgesics, especially paracetamol. Repetition of attempts within one year of a first attempt during the study period occurred in nearly one in 10 cases. Copyright © 1990 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original publication




Journal article


International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry

Publication Date





367 - 373