An article published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday Self-harm in adults: a comparison between the middle-aged and the elderly stated that men aged 45–49 years and 85-plus years have one of the highest suicide rates in New Zealand.

Age Concern New Zealand professional educator: elder abuse and neglect prevention Hanny Naus. Photo/Supplied

The research was based on a study done by the University of Auckland that compared self-harm in two age groups 45-64 and 65-plus.

The study found that older people who have self-harmed were more likely to report physical illness as a stressor, have a history of depression and be diagnosed with depression whereas relationship separation and financial troubles were more likely to be stressors for middle-age people.

Age Concern professional educator: elder abuse and neglect prevention Hanny Naus said although the statistics are alarming the research is crucial because it shows support needs to be altered to suit different age groups.

“We feel positive that this issue is being brought to light by this research.

“It shows the importance of age-related support. Older people need care just like anyone else in society.”

The biggest barriers for older people in getting support is accessibility and cost as many are on low incomes and find it difficult to leave their houses due to physical conditions making them less mobile.

This barrier is also one of the reasons for self-harm because the isolation can lead people to become lonely and depressed, she said.

Aside from outside support, family and friends can do more than an occasional phone call to prevent elderly loved ones from self-harming, she said.

“We can all do something to help.

“Spend time with them, pop in more and take a deeper look. A person doesn’t immediately get to a state in which they want to self-harm.”

University of Auckland psychiatrist Dr Gary Cheung who lead the study. Photo/Supplied

University of Auckland psychiatrist Dr Gary Cheung, who lead the study, said depression is often under-reported and under-diagnosed in older people, who are more likely to report physical symptoms than emotional.

“The older-aged people were a particularly vulnerable group.

“In this age group, physical illnesses may cause or exacerbate depression. Other studies have shown that pain and loss of functioning commonly lead to feelings of hopelessness and distress in dealing with physical illnesses.

“These emotional struggles could increase suicide risk, particularly when independence and dignity is threatened and the person starts perceiving themselves as a burden.”

Dr Cheung said he hoped age-related screening and treatment would be developed following his research.

For the study, Dr Cheung and co-researcher Dr Yu Mwee Tan analysed patient records of middle-aged (45-64 years) and older (65-plus) men and women who visited the emergency department of Middlemore Hospital, Auckland, for self-harming from 2010-2013.


If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234


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