[Letters] Stop the increasing suicides of the elderly

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[Letters] Stop the increasing suicides of the elderly

In 2009, 15,413 Koreans committed suicide, up by 19.9 percent from the year before. It is no exaggeration to say that Korea is a country of suicides, as 40 citizens end their own lives every day on average.

A latest problem is the sharp increase in the suicides of the elderly. The suicide rate of the men over age 65 increased by 5.4 times from 1990 to 2009. The increase is very large compared to other demographics, as the suicide rate in the 25-44 age group increased by 1.6 times and the rate in the 45-64 age group increased by 3.4 times.

Elderly women also show a similar trend. Until the 1990s, the suicide rates in different age groups did not show much discrepancy, but lately, the suicide rate in the senior group increased nearly by three times compared to the younger generations.

It is noteworthy that the trend is contrasting to the suicide rates in Japan. The age group with highest suicide rate in Japan is not the elderly but the middle-aged group. The suicide rate in elderly females used to be very high in the past, but it is constantly and drastically decreasing in the last twenty years.

What have happened to the lives of the senior citizens of Korea in the past ten years or so? Medically speaking, a suicide is an outcome of depression.

So we can name the increasing and aggravating depression among senior citizens as the primary cause. However, depression is the immediate cause of the suicide. We need to pay attention to the more fundamental factors that cause depression in the elderly population and lead to suicides.

Since 2000, the Korean society has become polarized rapidly. The group that fell behind in the process was not provided with sufficient social safety net.

Moreover, as families become smaller and smaller, the seniors become increasingly neglected.

As a result, senior citizens became the most vulnerable group in the Korean society. The old and ailing people with no income are making extreme decision to end their lives out of desperation and to save their children from financial burden.

The society must not neglect such tragic choices of the elderly any longer. It is inevitable that the aging of the society would produce more senior population. If we don’t have social responses and follow-ups to address the changes of the society, the suicide rate of the old people is bound to rise. When we neglect the problem, we may be faced with disorganization of our social community.

The increasing suicide of the elderly is an urgent and desperate problem just like a house set on fire. There has to be a nationwide survey on the general health status and welfare conditions of the senior citizens. Based on the research, the government has to come up with a more fundamental and long-term plans.

The quietly increasing suicides of the elderly illustrates the most tragic and solitary side of the modern society. It is a disgrace for the Republic of Korea to neglect the aging generation to end their own lives tragically when they are the ones who founded and made Korea’s today.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

Kim Dong-hyeon, a professor of social and preventative medicine at Hallym University Medical School.
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