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Health and wellness

How Hong Kong youth can offer a lifeline to depressed older adults

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 4:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 9:01pm

I refer to the article by Qingsong Chang and Paul Yip about suicide among older adults (“Strengthen social relationships to combat elderly suicide”, February 10).

Suicide among the elderly can often be neglected by society, given the more pressing problems and livelihood issues vying for public attention. People may believe that senior citizens often take their own lives because of the physical limitations imposed by ailing health or the emotional anguish of losing their spouse. But there are other motivations behind the suicidal thoughts and acts of older adults.

A sense of lethargy in post-retirement life might be a contributing factor. When fully engaged in their careers, they could derive a sense of achievement from it. A sudden halt to their work life means they must find things to do to fill up an abrupt increase in leisure time. It can be hard for those used to shouldering responsibilities to adjust to a burden-free life in which they can’t find the meaning of living.

Human touch and warmth can exercise its magic, by energising an elderly person to live on

Loneliness may also cause suicidal thoughts. Some senior citizens who are living alone or are shy may have minimal contact with the community. Others, including the more gregarious ones, might find themselves limited by mobility issues. Over time, such alienation can cause them to harbour deeply negative feelings.

However, while multiple factors may lead to suicide among the elderly, stronger social relationships can act as a primary preventive measure. Relatives of the elderly should show concern for them on a regular basis. Tied up by family commitments and work, some people may not be able to set aside time for elderly relatives. However, a phone call and a short visit might be all it takes to prevent a possible suicide. Human touch and warmth can exercise its magic, by energising an elderly person to live on.

The elderly should also be encouraged to interact with others. For instance, they might develop a daily routine of having dim sum while chatting at a Chinese restaurant with other elderly persons.

Alternatively, they might go to some community centres and join others for activities. More teenagers could be encouraged to take part in school-organised visits to such centres, as having a group of energetic, youthful children around is definitely beneficial to the well being of the elderly.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai