Cut suicide rate by aiding rural elderly

Updated: 2014-08-06 07:04

By Liu Yanwu (China Daily)

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China's aging population has given rise to some difficult problems especially in rural areas. The high suicide rate among senior citizens is one of them, which has revealed a slew of problems that the government and society as a whole should attend to.

Suicides committed by elderly people in rural areas account for a considerable percentage of all suicides in the countryside. In the 1980s, younger people accounted for 64 percent of all suicides committed in rural areas, while the suicide cases involving older people added up to only 15 percent. But while the percentage of suicides committed by younger people in rural areas declined to 38 in the last decade of 20th century, the corresponding rate for senior citizens jumped to 40 percent.

A drastic reversal in the suicide trend has been noticed in China in the 21st century, with 80 percent of all reported suicides in rural areas being committed by senior citizens as opposed to only 10 percent by younger people. This makes addressing the elderly people's problems a major task in the country's long-term battle to curb the rising suicide rate in the country.

Generally speaking, four categories of senior citizens in rural areas are most prone to committing suicide - those of relatively advanced age, as people 70 years old or above accounted for two-thirds of all suicides committed by elderly people; those suffering from diseases, who accounted for 80 percent of all senior citizens' committing suicide; and the disabled and the widowed, as nearly half of the elderly people who committed suicide were either physically challenged or suffering from loneliness or both.

Accordingly, the uncertainty over sustenance and care, and critical illnesses are together the cause of more than 60 percent of the suicides committed by elderly people in rural areas. Sustenance in most cases refers to food and daily care. Besides, family discords, loneliness, unfilial children and even the thought of having become a burden on their offspring could force many senior citizens to commit suicide.

Regional differences, too, are an important indicator of the suicide trend in China's countryside. In many villages in the country's central region, such as the Hanjiang Plain and the Dongting Lake Plain, where traditional culture has almost given way to modern ways of life, the suicide rate among elderly people is astonishingly high. The suicide rate among senior citizens in rural areas in northern and southern China, where traditional values are still held in high esteem, is relatively lower but far from reassuring, especially because a potential increase in the suicide rate is foreseeable.

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