Depression a Cause Behind Elderly Suicides in India

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Suicide among elderly in India is on the rise and depression is often one of the factors, say experts.

In the first week of October, the month that begins with World Elder’s Day, a retired 65-year-old judge from Andhra Pradesh killed himself by jumping in front of a moving train. His 56-year-old wife did the same too. The suicide note left by the former judge revealed that he was taking the extreme step because of a kidney ailment he had been suffering from for the past few years.

The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2016, published in the Lancet journal found that the suicide death rate is increasing in the elderly, especially among those above 80 years. Alarmingly enough, the Indian elderly population has a significant risk of suicide when compared to other age groups.

Depression, often due to a chronic illness or some kind of functional impairment is one of the main risk factors for suicide in the elderly.

A 2015 study on Risk factors for suicide in elderly in comparison to younger age groups, which studied 1159 suicide attemptors, including people over 65 years found that physical illness, depression and a family history of psychiatric illness were the main predictors of suicide. The study noted that about one in five of all successful suicides are committed by individuals above the age of 65.

“Once an elderly person decides enough is enough and they are done with life, often because they don’t want to be a burden on others, financially or otherwise, they follow it through,” says Dr Soumya Hegde, Geriatric Psychiatrist.

“In fact, some of these studies show that the elderly people who committed suicide were in touch with medical professional a week before they did it,” says Dr Hegde who feels medical professionals need to be more aware of this and “ask elderly people if the thought has ever crossed their minds when they come for other check-ups.”

Elderly people are also less likely to report suicidal intention as compared to younger people, she adds. “Their attempts are more planned and they compete it.”

Depression and a sense of alienation, coupled with a lack of desire to go on living if the elderly person is suffering from a chronic ailment are often factors that prompt elders to attempt suicide. In fact, depression is an emerging mental health problem among elders in India. ‘The median prevalence rate of depression among the elderly Indian population was determined to be 21.9%’, according to the study: Prevalence of depressive disorders in the elderly (2011). Worryingly enough, India has a higher rate of depressive disorders among the elderly because the world-wide numbers stand between 4.7 to 16 per cent.

Dr Hegde warns that signs of elderly depression are often missed by both medical professionals and family as normal complaints of ageing. “Depression also manifests itself differently in elders as aches and pains and can be confused with other medical conditions,” she adds.

Medical health professionals treating geriatric patients need to be sensitized and aware. Families need to pay attention to the elders in their lives.

So if you find that a loved one at home is low someone low, take some time to sit down and talk to them and find out what is going on, is the expert advice. Families need to be aware, says Dr Hegde. “Find out if the elderly person is taking their medication properly and check their mood and seek help.”

Depression in elders is treatable too and it shouldn’t lead to an extreme step, even if the person is suffering from a chronic ailment. The Indian elderly population is expected to rise to 340 million by 2050. Mental health issues among the elderly and its repercussions like suicide is a much-neglected area and it is time that both medical professionals and families become aware of it.

Read this to know more about Geriatric Depression: Battling Geriatric Depression



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