20 February 2019
Loneliness, depression, financial and health problems can act as triggers for suicides among the elderly. Photos: HKEJ
Loneliness, depression, financial and health problems can act as triggers for suicides among the elderly. Photos: HKEJ

Concern grows over senior citizen suicides

At least seven senior citizens killed themselves in Hong Kong over the last two days after the Mid-Autumn Festival, with some incidents ironically occurring on September 10, the World Suicide Prevention Day, Ming Pao Daily News reported Thursday.

It is believed that most of the people who took their own lives were either suffering from chronic diseases or were emotionally disturbed, it said.

According to experts, suicides among the elderly are usually carefully planned. Once a decision is made to end their lives, the people are usually determined to carry out the task. The suicide rate among the elderly is found to be higher than in other age groups.

Old people living alone could be more prone to committing suicide as they would feel especially lonely during festivals, at a time when family members normally gather and celebrate.

One male and six females aged between 59 and 86 killed themselves on Tuesday and Wednesday, with six jumping off buildings and one plunging into the sea.

Psychiatrist Lee Sing said there are about three to four old-age suicides each day in Hong Kong, which is a cause for concern.

Chan Man-yee, chief officer of the elderly service unit at Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS), said there could be multiple reasons as to why old people commit suicides — the lack of community support, children moving out, the passing away of spouses, apart from financial and health issues.

Chan called for relatives, friends and neighbors to look out for the old people living alone, especially during festivals.

A study report released Wednesday by the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, which was jointly established by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the University of Hong Kong, showed that the number of suicide cases among Hong Kong people have dropped slightly from 12.8 persons in every 100,000 people in 2012 to 12.3 persons per 100,000 people last year.

However, suicide rates among old people have been trending upwards, with males in the 55 to 64 age group registering the biggest increase, up from 15.4 persons in every 100,000 people in 2012 to 21.3 persons in every 100,000 people in 2013, representing a 38 percent jump year on year.

Another group that needs attention is boys aged 15 or under.

The study revealed that 0.5 in every 100,000 boys aged 15 or younger committed suicide in 2103, compared to 0.2 in 2012, Hong Kong Economic Times reported Thursday. Comparatively, the rate for girls within the same age range was down to 0.3 from 0.5.

Up to three percent of the 1,010 youngsters aged between 12 and 29 interviewed on phone in May by the center said they have been inclined to stay at home and not go out to make contact with people over the past six months. These youngsters showed worse health conditions and tended to hurt themselves more often, the study said

Paul Yip Siu Fai, director of the center, pointed out that Hong Kong youngsters are now spending more time playing online games and that makes them have weaker social connections. Such youngsters often feel disconnected to the society and helpless, he said.

The centre quoted a study in Taiwan which showed that the suicide rate tends to climb 3.8 percent if data regarding suicides shown in online search results is up 10 percent.

Yip said the center’s long-term goal is to discuss with online search service providers to create a pop-out screen that allows users to get help when they search for information regarding suicide.

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