Suicidal elderly need community-based help

It was disturbing to read that the number of suicides in Singapore among people aged 60 and above is on the rise (Number of suicides among seniors hits record high, July 30; Serious steps need to be taken to curb elderly suicide, by Dr Patrick Liew Siow Gian; and Educate the elderly on available avenues of help, by Mr Cheng Choon Fei, both published on Aug 1).

While this is likely to be the trend in other countries as well, what is of real concern is why this should be so. An array of active-ageing programmes encouraging seniors to be physically active and socially engaged are available to them. This is in addition to the enhanced medical care they can access.

It is time we took action to identify the roadblocks that prevent them from accessing the support services they need.

Little attention is paid to older adults with suicidal behaviour.

While national suicide prevention initiatives, like the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), are doing a great job, how effective are they in reaching out to older people who are suicidal?

Most elderly people who attempt suicide or die by suicide suffer from, among other things, depression caused by severe anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, illness, disability, loneliness and a diminishing circle of family and friends.

Suicide prevention programmes are most effective when they are community-based and combine multiple strategies.

Efforts should, therefore, be conducted in multiple settings by building more supportive networks. At the lowest level, mental education in schools is vital.

There is, for example, an urgent need to train the healthcare workforce to meet the mental health needs of elderly people, while mental health professionals should integrate into elderly communities to understand their concerns and anxieties.

Looking at the big picture, an overall initiative to prevent suicide in late life needs to be embedded in a holistic active-ageing strategy for the whole population.

Any approach taken to improve the health of people in old age will be consistent with reducing suicides among the elderly.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2018, with the headline 'Suicidal elderly need community-based help'. Print Edition | Subscribe