Domestic Affairs

Elderly suicide not a noble act

By Jenelle Whittaker (
Updated: 2010-09-08 13:50
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The theme of this year's World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 "Many Faces, Many Places," is an accurate reflection of suicide rates in China. When thinking of suicide in China, many people may recall the spate of Foxconn suicides, but there are also growing concerns that elderly citizens are committing suicide to avoid being a burden on their family.

Migration of young adults to cities for work, smaller family sizes due to the one-child policy and higher costs of living have all led to change in the family structure making it increasingly difficult for families to support their elderly parents.

China Aging Development Foundation President Li Baoku, recently quoted in both Chinese and English media, said "the suicide rate among rural elderly in China is four to five times higher than the world average".

He added that "many elderly choose to quietly finish their days on a barren hillside, forest or streams in order to avoid becoming a burden to their children".

The idea that elderly suicide is an honorable self-sacrifice to make children's lives easier is extremely worrying. Why should elderly citizens feel guilty about being alive? How has a society which prides itself on filial piety and respect for elders, been able to stand by while senior citizens are guilt-driven to commit suicide? It is an extreme form of family neglect.

Earlier this year, an 80-year-old woman in rural Sichuan drowned herself in a water tank by holding her head underwater and defying her survival instinct to take a breath.

Hearing this story I was distressed and anxious. However, I was told by colleagues that neighbors said the suicide was a solution to her family's financial situation.

The family held a ceremony and invited monks to pray, but despite everyone being aware of what happened to the elderly woman and how she died, no one said anything.

The secrecy and denial behind elderly suicide makes it worse. If no one in the village was willing to stand up for the rights and social welfare of the elderly citizens, it may happen again.

There needs to be better education on the rights of elderly citizens to live a decent life and more community support networks.

Often people commit suicide or starve themselves in their own homes because they feel isolated from the community.

Elderly community centers and older people's associations provide elderly with a social outlet and opportunity to develop new skills and be physically active.

This is particularly important for rural residents, who have fewer leisure centers and activities compared to their urban counterparts.

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