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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Why are so many elderly Asians killing themselves?

Chinese police remove an elderly man who climbed up an advertising billboard to kill himself by jumping to the ground, in Beijing on May 17, 2011. The suicide rate among the elderly living in China's urban areas has become alarmingly high.

Global Post

SINGAPORE — It is a question that has puzzled mental health experts in Asia for some time: Why are so many elderly Asians committing suicide?
The past decade has seen astonishing spikes in the rate of Asians over 65 choosing to end their lives early, particularly in the region’s economically successful countries.
  • In South Korea, for example, suicides in that age group have risen more than fivefold, from 14 per 100,000 in 1990 to 77 per 100,000 in 2009, according to Hallym University's Institute of Aging.  
  • In Taiwan, seniors took their lives more than twice as often as any other age group, at a rate of 35.8 per 100,000 in 2010, versus 17.6 for the national average.
  • Suicides among city dwellers in China aged 70 to 74 surged to 33.76 per 100,000 in the mid-2000s, up from 13.39 in the 1990s.
And these numbers are expected to rise.

A 2011 report found that mental well-being would likely worsen over the next two decades in Asia, with suicide rates expected to continue climbing.

The World Health Organization found higher-than-average suicide rates among the elderly in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. The irony: Wealth and economic growth over the past quarter-century has given families greater financial resources to take care of their elderly.
By contrast, the rate remains both stable and far lower in less-developed countries, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

(Experts stress that government data concerning elderly suicides in Asia is considered to be of poor quality, due to unreported cases. So rates could be even higher.)

The trend contrasts with what is happening in the world’s most developed countries.

Among nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping of 30-odd wealthy nations, the average overall suicide rate fell from 16.17 per 100,000 in 1990 to 13.29 in 2010. In the United States, elderly suicides accounted for 14.3 per 100,000 in 2007.

In Asia, experts blame the rapid social and economic changes across the region and scarce mental health services. In some Asian countries a disproportionate number of suicides among elderly has followed financial or health crises, but experts are now looking at the social pressures being placed on the elderly by industrialization and population growth.

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