Elderly suicides warning despite reduction in cases

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 April, 2002, 12:00am

Suicide among the elderly remains a serious problem in Hong Kong despite a drop in the number taking their lives in the past five years, a social welfare group warned yesterday as an official report on the issue was released.

Figures show the elderly suicide rate in Hong Kong has been declining - from 29.5 per 100,000 elderly people in 1997 to 26.3 in 1999. The rate remained the same in 2000.

However, Society for Community Organisation spokesman Ng Wai-tung said 30 per cent of all suicide cases involve elderly people, even though they make up only 14 per cent of the population.

'Although the elderly suicide rate remains stable, it is still a serious problem which needs to be tackled promptly in light of the ageing population in Hong Kong, which means we are going to face more social problems in relation to elderly people,' Mr Ng said.

According to a study, commissioned by the Government and released yesterday, Hong Kong's elderly suicide rate is close to the global average.

The study, carried out jointly by the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University, shows poor health and depression are among the major factors in suicides. Other factors include financial hardship and relationship problems with families.

Of 917 elderly people interviewed between October 1999 and February 2000 in the study, 7.4 per cent said their life was meaningless and 5.5 per cent expressed suicidal wishes.

This year, the Government set up a surveillance system to monitor suicides among the elderly.

Speaking after an Elderly Commission meeting yesterday, the chairman, Tam Yiu-chung, revealed the body was considering new laws to protect the elderly from physical and mental abuse.

Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare Patrick Nip Tak-kuen admitted abuse was a factor in suicides by the elderly. Mr Nip said there were laws in the United States requiring reporting of elderly abuse.

However, Mr Nip said both elderly suicide and elderly abuse were complicated issues that needed more study before a law could be introduced.

'Technically, it will not be easy to define or identify psychological abuse or negligence in law. Also, the issue of elderly abuse and elderly suicide is such a complicated social problem that it is unlikely to be resolved simply by introducing a new law,' he said.

The Social Welfare Department recorded 143 cases of elderly abuse in 1999, mostly involving physical abuse. Mr Nip agreed the figures might not reflect the full picture as many cases are believed to go unreported.



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