The Interpersonal and Psychological Impacts of COVID-19 on Risk for Late-Life Suicide


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Older adults experience increased risk for suicide compared to the general population, and the circumstances surrounding the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) may potentiate this risk. We discuss how current COVID-19 pandemic-related policies are likely to harm older adults disproportionately. COVID-19 pandemic social distancing policies and ethical guidelines for COVID-19 treatment may exacerbate experiences of social isolation, perceived expendability, and exposure to suffering, which are related to the 3 main components of the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (i.e., thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness to society, and capability for suicide). The COVID-19 pandemic poses a drain on services and has drawn ethical debates about policies around treating younger adults first. These experiences may lead older adults to have reduced access to needed medical and psychiatric services and may convey damaging messages of expendability. Furthermore, the potential prolonged stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic may affect neurological, immunological, and health functioning—exacerbating suicide risk. Potential venues to increase treatment options and decrease social isolation are discussed. We acknowledge optimistic effects as well, such as “pulling together” as a society and the many valuable ways older adults may contribute during this crisis.

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