It was reported today (30 Jul) that the number of elderly committing suicide hit a record high last year (2017).
In its press release, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) noted that the number of the elderly aged 60 and above who took their own lives in 2017 has risen to 129, the highest recorded.
According to SOS, the high prevalence of suicide mortality among the elderly is a worrying trend in Singapore.
Ms Christine Wong, Executive Director of SOS, expressed her concern, “It is very worrying that many elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles, when they should be enjoying their luster of the golden years.”
ST avoids talking about financial burden causing suicides
The Straits Times also reported the same story of the number of suicides among the elderly hitting record high.
However, it avoided mentioning financial burden and cost of living as one of the reasons for the increased elderly suicide rates altogether.
ST merely quoted some social service people mentioning other possible reasons for suicides like social isolation and loneliness.
“Those who are aged and sick, have little or no family or dependant help, and are socially isolated, may be more susceptible (to suicide),” ST quoted a spokesperson of Fei Yue Community Services saying.
It also quoted Wang Jing, assistant director of Hua Mei Counselling and Coaching at Tsao Foundation, attributing to changes in family patterns as a contributing factor to the rise in suicides among the elderly.
“For most older people, families are their closest ties and where they first turn to for help but the family size is getting smaller and the number of elders living alone or with an elderly spouse is going up,” Ms Wang said.
“Elder isolation is something we need to address in order to tackle elder suicide,” she said. “Living with another person does not necessarily mean one does not become lonely or isolated. Interaction and emotional support are key.”
“Suicide is… an extreme situation when people want to put an end to their continuous pain and feelings of overwhelming helplessness,” said Ms Wang. “If steps are taken early to manage seemingly insurmountable… problems, suicide may not occur.”
Financial burden among elderly is a cause of suicides
However, SPH did use TNP, a newspaper with a smaller circulation, to mention about financial burden among the elderly as a cause of suicides.
TNP interviewed Madam Hamidah Mohd, 69, who said that suicide is often discussed by those around her age.
“I had a neighbour who said her life had no meaning because her children refused to visit her. She told me she did not have anyone left and saw little point in living when she did not even have enough money for food,” Mdm Hamidah disclosed.
Another person interviewed was Mr Yang Mu Yi, 65, a cobbler, who said that financial struggles are a problem. “For many elderly people who lack resources and cannot provide for themselves, it may seem better to go,” he said.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, a clinical psychologist and counsellor with 25 years’ experience, said the trend of seniors contemplating suicide is not new.
“It has been going on for years. The problem is compounded with more and more elderly people now living on their own,” she said. “Some of them think that suicide is the best way to deal with these struggles without becoming a burden to their family.”
She added, “The elderly tend to have a lot of pride and some would rather die with their pride intact than seek help.”
With the cost of living ever increasing in Singapore, poor economic outlook and the shrinking of the family size, the suicide rates among the elderly or otherwise may just very well increase in time to come.