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Research on Late-Life Suicide: Mechanisms and Future Treatment Targets


Jovier D. Evans, Ph.D. and Laura M. Rowland, Ph.D.
Division of Translational Research


The goal of this initiative would be to solicit research that addresses predictors and mechanisms associated with late-life suicide.  Specifically, this initiative would aim to address the link between social disconnection in late life and late-life suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  Of specific interest would be research that identifies mechanisms by which social disconnection confers risk for, and social integration protects against, suicidal thoughts and behaviors in late life.  Mechanisms to be considered exist at multiple levels of analysis: neurobiological, behavioral, and environmental. 


Though a number of existing initiatives promote research in suicide prevention and intervention, few projects solicited through such initiatives explicitly focus on the role of social connection and social isolation in suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and even fewer specifically focus on suicide in late life.  Yet, late-life suicide attempts remain among the most fatal, and social disconnection remains one of the primary motivators of self-harm in older adults, and social isolation affects nearly a quarter of Americans over the age of 65 in community settings.  These challenges may have been further exacerbated by the COVID-1 pandemic and mitigation efforts.  Consistent with NIMH’s goal to reduce suicide rates by 25 percent by 2025, it is critical that suicide prevention and intervention efforts target the most vulnerable populations – of which the aging U.S. population is one. To do so requires strengthening of the evidence base for interventions targeting loneliness and social isolation in order to translate research into effective clinical care.  This could include research to identify new targets for treatment and intervention, as well as research that harnesses both healthcare resources and community-based networks to improve social connectedness in older adults vulnerable to suicide.