China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - Con­tact the writer at tangyue@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

ang Fengy­ing lost her only child in 2002, when her 19-year-old daugh­ter fell to her death from a four-meter high ledge in the sub­urbs of Bei­jing.

Less than a decade later, in 2011, Fang’s hus­band died of esophageal can­cer. “It was even more dif­fi­cult than los­ing my daugh­ter be­cause I was left to­tally alone in the world,” the 63-year-old re­called.

“I was fully pre­pared. I was ready to jump to my death at any time.”

Fang be­gan to see things that weren’t there. Once, in a con­fused state, she mis­took a wom­anon­the street forher­daugh­ter and tried to con­vince the stranger­to­come­home­with­her.

She was de­pressed, but for­tu­nately two of her friends no­ticed her be­hav­ior and took her to a hospi­tal for treat­ment.

Though still on med­i­ca­tion, Fang said she has found a new part­ner and can en­joy life again now. But not ev­ery­one is so lucky.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, China’s sui­cide rate dropped from 19.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 7.8 per 100,000 in2012, when­the global av­er­age was 11.4 sui­cides per 100,000. Yet fig­ures from the China Pub­lic Health Sta­tis­ti­cal Year­book sug­gest that sui­cide rates are much higher among the older gen­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially in the coun­try­side.

Ac­cord­ing to the data, in 2014, the sui­cide rate among 55 to 59-year-olds liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas was 5.53 per 100,000, ris­ing to 41.2 per 100,000 for those age 85 and older. In ru­ral ar­eas, mean­while, the rates for the two age groups were 11.2 per 100,000 and 70.3 per 100,000, re­spec­tively.

How­ever, high sui­cide rates among the el­derly are not unique to China, ac­cord­ing to theWHOre­port.

Li Xianyun, deputy di­rec­tor of the Bei­jing Sui­cide Re­search and Pre­ven­tion Cen­ter, at­trib­uted the phe­nom­e­non to multiple fac­tors such as de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health, lone­li­ness and low self-worth.

Ac­cord­ing to Mu Guang­zong, a de­mo­graph­ics pro­fes­sor at Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity, se­niors in­China are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble due to the for­mer one-child pol­icy, which led to fam­i­lies with fewer chil­dren, and the lim­ited scope of so­cial ser­vices that can­not keep pace with a rapidly ag­ing so­ci­ety.

Sta­tis­tics pub­lished by the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion in 2015 showed that half of China’s se­nior pop­u­la­tion, or more than 100 mil­lion peo­ple age 60 or older, were clas­si­fied as “empty nesters” as their chil­dren had left home.

“The whole of so­ci­ety largely ig­nores the el­derly. Text­books have 200 to 300 pages on child psy­chol­ogy and only two or three pages when it comes to the el­derly,” said Lin Xue, who ma­jored in psy­chol­ogy and is now a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­sul­tant with the Bei­jing­based “Love Elder­lyHot­line”.

The ser­vice was launched a decade ago af­ter its founder, XuKun, pre­vented a des­per­ate wid­ower from­com­mit­ting sui­cide and re­al­ized the scale of the prob­lem.

“For those who lose their part­ners, the first 18 months are pretty dan­ger­ous and for those­wholose their only child, they need at­ten­tion and care for their en­tire life,” she said.

In ad­di­tion to the hot­line ser­vice, which the govern­ment funds, Xu also or­ga­nizes meet­ings and out­ings for those­who have lost loved ones, spon­sored by US multi­na­tional John­son and John­son.

“We es­cape the fes­ti­vals to­gether. Those times when fam­i­lies would usu­ally be gath­er­ing are al­ways the hard­est time for them. In­stead of in­dulging in sadness, why not go on a trip?” she said.

The ur­ban-ru­ral gap

The sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in sui­cide rates be­tween se­niors liv­ing in ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas is a unique­lyChi­nese prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to Li from the Bei­jing Sui­cide Re­search and Pre­ven­tion Cen­ter.

She at­tributes it to the dif­fer­ences in liv­ing stan­dards, and med­i­cal and so­cial ser­vices that ex­ist in China’s coun­try­side ver­sus its cities.

A study by the cen­ter found that 63 per­cent of those who took their own lives, and 40 per­cent of those who at­tempted to, had a men­tal dis­or­der. The rates were even higher among peo­ple age 55 and above, Li said.

“But many peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas still don’t see men­tal prob­lems as a dis­ease and, even if they do, they lack the re­sources to get treat­ment,” she said.

Yang Hua, a re­searcher with the China Ru­ral Gover­nance Study Cen­ter at Huazhong Uni­ver­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy, has a dif­fer­ent the­ory.

Based on field stud­ies he has car­ried­outsince2008in­Hubei, He­nan, Hu­nan and Shaanxi prov­inces, he be­lieves there are four main rea­sons for sui­cides among the el­derly in ru­ral ar­eas: bore­dom, self-interest, al­tru­ism and des­per­a­tion.

At one ex­treme, Yang said he dis­cov­ered that half the el­derly peo­ple who took their own lives in Jing­shan county, Hubei prov­ince, did it for their fam­i­lies.

“When they are di­ag­nosed with a dis­ease that is in­cur­able or the treat­ment is very ex­pen­sive, they some­times just choose to end their lives them­selves; they don’t want to be a bur­den on their chil­dren,” he said.

In other cases, el­derly “empty nesters” were left des­ti­tute af­ter they be­came too old to farm, be­cause farm­ers were not in­cluded in the na­tional pen­sion sys­tem un­til 2009.

To­day, most farm­ers in China can re­ceive at least 70 yuan ($10.50) per month from the cen­tral govern­ment plus a sep­a­rate sum of money from the lo­cal govern­ment,

I was fully pre­pared. I was ready to jump to my death at any time.”

a 63-year-old woman whose only child and hus­band both died

Fang Fengy­ing, which place.

“It’s not much, but in some poorer places, it gives hope to those who are strug­gling,” said He Xue­feng, di­rec­tor of the China Ru­ral Gover­nance Study Cen­ter.

Yang, from the China Ru­ral Gover­nance Study Cen­ter, warned of the pos­si­ble knockon ef­fects of ur­ban­iza­tion on se­niors in places like He­nan andHubei.

“Their chil­dren have left home and live in the city and be­cause house prices are ris­ing rapidly and the cost of rais­ing chil­dren is so high, these chil­dren ne­glect their par­ents left in the coun­try­side,” he said.

“It is a very se­ri­ous prob­lem in a fast chang­ing so­ci­ety, but still re­mains largely ig­nored.” varies from place Wang Ze­hua con­trib­uted to the story. to


Xu Kun (sec­ond from left) plays a game with el­derly res­i­dents at the Bei­jing of­fice of “Love El­derly Hot­line” that she founded a decade ago to pro­vide psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing ser­vice to se­niors.

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