Suicides reveal rural seniors' desperation

Updated: 2016-09-08 06:59

By Tang Yue(China Daily)

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 Suicides reveal rural seniors' desperation

A retiree surnamed Liu, who thought of killing herself after a divorce, looks at her families' photos. Zou Hong/China Daily

Li Xianyun, deputy director of the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center, attributed the phenomenon to multiple factors such as deteriorating health, loneliness and low self-worth.

According to Mu Guangzong, a demographics professor at Peking University, seniors in China are particularly vulnerable due to the former one-child policy, which led to families with fewer children, and the limited scope of social services that cannot keep pace with a rapidly aging society.

Statistics published by the National Health and Family Planning Commission in 2015 showed that half of China's senior population, or more than 100 million people age 60 or older, were classified as "empty nesters" as their children had left home.

"The whole of society largely ignores the elderly. Textbooks have 200 to 300 pages on child psychology and only two or three pages when it comes to the elderly," said Lin Xue, who majored in psychology and is now a psychological consultant with the Beijing-based "Love Elderly Hotline".

The service was launched a decade ago after its founder, Xu Kun, prevented a desperate widower from committing suicide and realized the scale of the problem.

"For those who lose their partners, the first 18 months are pretty dangerous and for those who lose their only child, they need attention and care for their entire life," she said.

In addition to the hotline service, which the government funds, Xu also organizes meetings and outings for those who have lost loved ones, sponsored by US multinational Johnson and Johnson.

"We escape the festivals together. Those times when families would usually be gathering are always the hardest time for them. Instead of indulging in sadness, why not go on a trip?" she said.

The urban-rural gap

The significant difference in suicide rates between seniors living in urban and rural areas is a uniquely Chinese problem, according to Li from the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center.

She attributes it to the differences in living standards, and medical and social services that exist in China's countryside versus its cities.