Mental health professionals are concerned about the number of
elderly people resorting to suicide, the South African Depression
and Anxiety Group said.
"It is worrying that, rather than showing signs of dropping or
even levelling off, late-life suicide may in fact be on the
increase," said the group's chief executive officer Zane Wilson."
She said the fears of mental health professionals seemed
justified against the backdrop of similar concerns in other
countries, as the world observes World Suicide Prevention Day on
"Where suicide among teenagers and young adults, whose futures
still lie before them, is a tragic enough phenomenon that
galvanises public outrage, late-life suicide is often accepted with
greater social ease."
Wilson said her group had been working hard on suicide
prevention campaigns and research into suicide among the young,
especially in rural areas where poverty and HIV/Aids were having a
"However, we cannot afford to lose sight of the cruel fact that
elderly people are still killing themselves, even if the causes may
be completely different from those driving younger generations to
Citing work by Dr Gary Kennedy of New York's Albert Einstein
College of Medicine, Wilson said suicide was "a major public health
problem that is still not sufficiently addressed either in the
research arena, by government or in clinical practice".
She said the psychologists had believed for over a century that
isolation and other social factors were major contributors to
suicide later in life.
"Recent research has again supported this view, but it also
depends on local stressors as well as community relations."
Wilson said in the United State suicide was sometimes portrayed
by the media as "an escape from intolerable circumstances",
especially where disease and pain were associated.
She said this perception might also influence others to view
suicide as an acceptable means of solving a problem, both in the
patient and the family.
"Research suggests that more women in South Africa attempt
suicide, although men show a higher fatality or 'success' rate.
This is probably attributable in large part to the means chosen -
someone who has taken an overdose is more likely to be found before
it is too late.
"Clearly, more research into the causes for late-life suicide is
Meanwhile, society should not close its eyes to this phenomenon
- especially where professionals and lay people could help restore
balance and give older people the same hope that sustained them
earlier in their lives, said Wilson.