Regular Research Article| Volume 30, ISSUE 12, P1330-1338, December 2022

A Qualitative Analysis of Suicide Notes to Understand Suicidality in Older Adults

Published:August 31, 2022DOI:


      • What is the primary question addressed by this study?
        What are the subjective experiences of older adults who have died by suicide at the time proximal to their death?
      • What is the main finding of this study?
        We explored the subjective experiences of older adults who have died by suicide through the qualitative analysis of suicide notes. Through these notes, older adults describe feelings of burdensomeness, loneliness, and hopelessness related to mental and physical illness.
      • What is the meaning of the finding?
        This study can help in the development of targeted interventions for mitigating suicide risk in older adults by understanding the explanatory narratives contributing to suicide-related thoughts and behaviors in this highly vulnerable subset of those experiencing suicidal ideation.



      Suicide is a complex multifactorial process influenced by a variety of biological, psychological, and social stressors. Many older adults face a characteristic set of challenges that predispose them to suicidal ideation, suicide-related behavior, and death by suicide. This study explored the subjective experience of suicidality through the analysis of suicide notes from older adults.


      Qualitative study analyzing written suicide notes.


      Written notes for suicide deaths in Toronto, Canada, between 2003 and 2009 were obtained from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario.


      The analysis comprised 29 suicide notes (mean words per note: 221; range: 6–1095) written by individuals 65 years and older (mean ± SD age: 76.2 ± 8.3).


      We employed a constructivist grounded theory framework for the analysis, conducted through line-by-line open coding, axial coding, and theorizing of data to establish themes.


      Suicide notes elucidated the writers’ conception of suicide and their emotional responses to stressors. Expressed narratives contributing to suicide centered on burdensomeness or guilt, experiences of mental illness, loneliness or isolation, and poor physical health or disability. Terms related to pain, poor sleep, apology, and inability to go on were recurrent.


      Suicide notes enrich our understanding of the thoughts and emotions of those at highest risk of suicide, and they inform potential interventions for reducing suicide risk in older adults.

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