Rise in suicide rate among Chinese seniors raises concerns

China faces the fastest-aging population crisis. Photo: www.silvereco.org

The suicide rate among China's elderly people has increased dramatically in the last couple of decades, according to a study. With a rapid increase in the number of elderly, currently 220 million, and little support, the suicide rate is likely to increase.

"In 2015, the suicide rate among those aged 65 and above was about three to seven times higher than that of the rest of population," said a study presented by Fan Peizheng, an associate professor of psychiatry at Taiwan's National Yang-Ming University, at last Saturday's Lancet-China Academy for Medical Sciences annual conference in Beijing.

"Rural areas have much harsher conditions than urban areas," the research noted.

According to Fan, the suicide rate among the group in rural areas between 2006 and 2015 was 21.99 to 65.60 per 100,000 people. In urban areas, the rate was 13.17 to 41.09 per 100,000 people.

"Elderly men are much more likely to kill themselves than elderly women, in line with the global trend," Fan told the country's respected financial magazine Caixin.

"Among those who are 65 and above, an average of about 30 per 100,000 men will commit suicide. For women in that age group, just under 20 out of every 100,000 will take their own lives," she said, adding that "in rural areas, the suicide rate among men aged 85 and above reached a shocking 110 per 100,000 in 2015."

Reasons behind rise

Accelerating urbanization in China is a key reason behind the rise in the suicide rate among elderly people.

Every generation of a Chinese family used to live under the same roof. But that system is facing serious challenges since the reform and opening up, which was announced by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.

In poorer rural areas, young people often migrate to other economically developed parts of the country for work, leaving their elderly parents behind.

Now, just 38 percent of people over the age of 60 live with their adult children, according to a major study by Chinese and American researchers released in 2013. Just over half of those living alone received financial support from their children.

Elderly people who are feeling lonely are less likely to self-evaluate, are not always in good psychological health, do not always have good relationships with others, and lack systemic social support.

All of these things can contribute to suicidal thoughts.

In the interview with Caixin, Fan urged the government to take action to prevent the increasing suicide rate among the elderly people and show more care and concern to them.

"China should launch more community programs to enhance the elderly people's sense of belonging and self-esteem, work harder to combat discrimination against them, and help them adapt to different phases of life," she said.

Researchers at Xiangnan University School of Nursing in China suggested that younger generations may alleviate the loneliness of their older relatives by calling or video chatting with them more frequently.

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