Why are so many elderly Asians killing themselves?

According to this disturbing report on NBCNews.com, “the past decade has seen an astonishing spike in the rate of Asians over 65 choosing to end their lives early, particularly in the region’s economically successful countries.”

The stats are frightening:

  • In South Korea, for example, suicides in that age group have risen more than fivefold, from 14 per 100,000 in 1990 to 77 per 100,000 in 2009, according to Hallym University’s Institute of Aging.
  • In Taiwan, seniors took their lives more than twice as often as any other age group, at a rate of 35.8 per 100,000 in 2010, versus 17.6 for the national average.
  • Suicides among city dwellers in China aged 70 to 74 surged to 33.76 per 100,000 in the mid-2000s, up from 13.39 in the 1990s.

      And these numbers are expected to rise.

Even more scary, experts note that government data on elderly suicides is considered to be of poor quality because of many unreported cases. So the numbers could actually be higher.

Why is this happening?

In Asia, experts blame the rapid social and economic changes across the region and scarce mental health services. In some Asian countries a disproportionate number of suicides among elderly has followed financial or health crises, but experts are now looking at the social pressures being placed on the elderly by industrialization and population growth.

And if it’s bad now, the twin forces of greater life expectancy and fewer caregivers will make things worse.

“Now we are enjoying the best moments of this era. We have three to four young adults to support a family with one or two elderly persons,” says Frances Law, a former project director at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, one of the region’s leading institutions in suicide prevention.

“The potential risk is that as life expectancy is getting longer and longer, the dependency ratio is getting much larger. That is, there will be fewer people to support the elderly population in the coming 10 to 20 years.”

You can read the entire report here.

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. Vice President, Zoomer Media Ltd. . Author of "The New Old" . 30 years experience in marketing communications, advertising, media . Speaker, writer, commentator on the revolution in aging and how to market to Boomers and seniors