Old People and Suicide: An Empirical Study in France

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Cherry SCHRECKER, Université Grenoble Alpes, France, UMR PACTE, France
Over the last century life expectancy in France has greatly increased and large numbers of people live well into their 90s. But this increase in longevity often includes a long period of ill health or physical impairment during which it becomes difficult or impossible to maintain previously normal physical, mental and social activity, this may be accompanied by a feeling of exhaustion, social isolation or estrangement. Under these circumstances many old people resort to suicide, in France in 2012 1868 people took this way out (39.84% of suicides in that year).

This paper will discuss the results of a study on old people and suicide which began in 2015. We have carried out 50 interviews with health-care professionals and members of the families of old people who have committed suicide. We have also taken part in training courses and observed meetings on suicide prevention. I will present the results of the interviews carried out with family members and with one old person who has survived two suicide attempts. The situations vary, not only by the diversity of the acts, but also with respect to the ways in which families react to suicide threats and attempts. We will examine the narratives by which families try to explain the suicide and the ways in which they situate this act in the person’s life seen as a whole. It would seem that being surrounded by family and community (or not) is not a sufficient explanation of suicide in the aged. Many of the people concerned were not socially isolated. Our interviews suggest that the incapacity to conform to social norms of beauty and activity is at least as important as an explicative factor.