Research into suicide risks for over-60s during COVID-19

Charles Sturt has awarded $27,000 in funding to a study that will investigate whether risk factors associated with suicide increased among older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The research team, led by Professor Suzanne McLaren in the Charles Sturt School of Psychology based in Port Macquarie, is concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic will follow a similar pattern to the 2003 SARS pandemic, which saw an increased suicide rate among adults aged 60 years and over during and one year after the pandemic.


Professor McLaren said the team decided to conduct the study because they were concerned that the social distancing and isolation measures used during the COVID-19 pandemic may contribute towards an increased suicide rate among older adults.


“Research has found that older adults who died by SARS-related suicide were significantly more likely to have experienced social isolation than older adults who died by non-SARS-related suicide,” Professor McLaren said.


“In addition, some older adults who died by suicide had motives concerning fear of being a burden to their families.”


The study will examine whether risk factors for suicide, including feelings of being a burden to others, feeling a sense of loneliness and disconnection from others, having higher tolerance to physical pain and death, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours, increased among older Australians during the pandemic.


Research team member and Lecturer in psychology at Charles Sturt, Dr Paola Castillo, said in order to reduce the risk of suicide during a pandemic, it is also important to understand protective factors for suicide.

“In order to develop the appropriate suicide interventions, it is necessary to reduce risks and promote protective factors,” Dr Castillo said.

“For this reason the study will also investigate whether hope, which is a psychological state that allows individuals to overcome challenges and reach desirable goals, acts as a protective factor by weakening the relationships between the risk factors and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.”


The study will be the first of its kind to investigate the unique values of older adults, in order to better tailor suicide prevention efforts.


“By understanding both the risk and protective factors for suicide and the unique values of older adults, the findings of our study will contribute to our limited understanding of suicide prevention among older adults, including what works for whom and under what circumstances,” Professor McLaren said.


The study, ‘The desire and capability for suicide among older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic’, received $27,000 in funding from Charles Sturt’s $200,000 COVID-19 research grants pool.


Adults aged 60 years and older can participate in the study by completing an online or paper survey. A small group of survey participants can also take part in an interview.


The study will commence early July 2020 and the findings are expected to be completed by January 2021.


The research team members include:

Professor Suzanne McLaren (Project Lead, Charles Sturt School of Psychology, based in Port Macquarie)

Professor Oliver Burmeister (Charles Sturt School of Computing and Mathematics, based in Bathurst)

Professor Britt Klein (Professorial Chair in Digital and Mental Health, Federation University, based in Ballarat)

Dr Paola Castillo (Charles Sturt School of Psychology, based in Port Macquarie)

Dr Richard Tindle (Charles Sturt School of Psychology, based in Port Macquarie)

Dr Denise Corboy (Blue Sky Mind Training and Research Consultancy, based in Ballarat)


If you have any concerns please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 -


2 June 2020.