London, Ontario – Suicide accounts for over 800,000 deaths each year. Globally, adults over the age of 65 are most at risk. A recent study led by Dr. Marnin Heisel, a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute, explored the relationship between perceived meaning in life, reasons for living and thoughts of suicide in seniors. Findings suggest that a perception of meaning in life can lead to increased identification of reasons for living and, in turn, to a significantly decreased likelihood of contemplating suicide.
Dr. Heisel, also a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Western University, and his colleagues interviewed 109 community-residing adults over the age of 65. Participants were assessed for suicide ideation (thoughts of suicide), their perception of reasons for living and their perception of meaning in life. These variables were assessed using three validated psychological tools, all of which Dr. Heisel played a central role in developing.
Meaning in life refers to the sense that one’s life has a deeper significance, while reasons for living refer to individual examples of those things that make life worthwhile. The study found that individuals who report more reasons for living are far less likely to contemplate suicide, as are individuals who report a strong sense of meaning in life. Findings also suggested that those older adults who find meaning in life are much more likely to identify reasons for living.
“Our findings suggest that by experiencing a deeper sense of meaning in life, individuals identify strong and multiple reasons for living,” said Dr. Heisel. “It appears that meaning in life mediates a relationship where stronger identification of reasons for living leads to decreased chances of suicide contemplation.”
Dr. Heisel’s findings support a growing exploration of positive psychological factors that may help to enhance mental health and wellbeing while preventing the development of depression and thoughts of suicide.
“We need to continue studying positive psychological factors and their effects,” said Dr. Heisel. “Rather than focusing solely on the treatment of a mental disorder like depression, we need to assess and enhance positive psychological factors like meaning in life and reasons for living. This will help us to enhance mental health and wellbeing for adults and seniors, and may help reduce the need for formal mental healthcare services.”