QUIRKS unique to Chinese culture are clues to the high elderly suicide rate in Hong Kong, Singapore and the mainland, observers say. Changing social roles and the desire to save face lead people to feelings of rejection which they are uncomfortable discussing. Hong Kong's overall suicide rate is low by world standards, but one-third of suicides are committed by people aged 60 or over. Most kill themselves by jumping from buildings. Frances Law of the Samaritans says that when today's senior citizens were young, they were taught to look up to their elders. 'The old people at that time had the prestige of being old. They were wise and knew how to resolve the problems of life. 'Now it's different - the younger generation thinks they know better.' More mysterious is the fact that the number of women committing suicide is almost as high as men, and most of them are married. 'This is quite unusual. Nowhere in the world has this phenomenon,' Dr Iris Chi says. Professor Helen Chiu says self-esteem and women's roles in the community may be different in this part of the world. On the mainland, fights with in-laws have been identified as a common suicide trigger. Ms Law says elderly Hong Kong people often feel they are in the way of relatives. 'But often their family really does care for them. It's just a lack of communication,' she says. Professor Chiu says government services are also an important issue. But a stronger welfare system is not as simple as providing an old-age pension. 'Not many elderly want to take a pension, even those suffering in a very difficult situation,' Ms Law says. 'They want to depend on themselves. It's more to do with a support network. The financial burden is only one part of the puzzle.' Another is that so many elderly people suffer painful chronic illnesses such as arthritis and respiratory ailments. Ms Law says this is partly because they did not know when they were young how best to look after themselves. 'The health-care system now is not good for the elderly. We cure patients but we don't care for them,' she says. 'But I think it is being improved gradually and hopefully by the time we get old, we'll have better health care.'