to understand that this might be a normal response to an extraordinary situation (Ryan, 1996). To assume that suicide amongst the elderly or people who are seriously ill is the result of depression or other psychiatric illness, is to adopt uncritically a biomedical way of seeing the world. We can do better.
Suicide & Depression
The link between suicide and depression remains a vexed issue with millions of dollars in government funding devoted to raising the community’s awareness of suicide, especially amongst the young and some minority groups (eg. farmers). And there can be no doubt. People who suffer from clinical depression are clearly at risk of suicide. Severe depressive states can rob a person of the ability to make rational decisions and these people need care and treatment until they are once again able to resume control. Yet illness of this severity is not common and needs to be distinguished from a larger group of people who show occasional signs of depression but who are in full control of their actions.
There is a significant difference between a person having moments of feeling down or having a transitory feeling that their life has lost purpose and the person who has severe clinical depression, where even the most basic daily decisions of life become problematic.
This is quite different from an elderly or seriously ill person’s desire to formulate an end of life plan; a plan whose sole aim is to maintain control over their final days. People who like to be prepared and who are not depressed should not be viewed in psychiatric terms.