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Experts urge suicide prevention system

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-09-09 21:35

BEIJING - Suicide has been a taboo topic in China in the past, but it is now one of the most serious problems the country must face despite its booming economy.

Tuesday, Sept 10 marks the 11th World Suicide Prevention Day, and some Chinese experts are calling for a national suicide prevention system to reduce the suicide rate in China, which has declined drastically in recent years but remains high.

According to statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009, suicides in China accounted for 26 percent of total suicides worldwide, putting it in the top five causes of death in the country.

"A variety of reasons contribute to the high suicide rate, including social, economic, cultural and environmental factors," said Xia Xueluan, professor of sociology at Peking University.

Enormous societal change, which can lead to feelings of confusion and alienation, is one of the most important reasons for the high suicide rate, Xia said, adding that people in modern society face more pressures and difficulties, which can be too much for some people.

Suicide high among elderly

In recent years, the suicide rate among the elderly rose to a worrying high, more than three times higher than other age groups, according to Xiao Shuiyuan, a professor with the China Association of Mental Health.

Research from the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center showed that the suicide rate among people over the age of 65 has risen sharply.

Li Baoku, president of the China Aging Development Foundation, revealed that the suicide rate of elderly living in rural areas is four to five times higher than the world average.

An investigation by the China National Committee on Ageing in 2007 showed that 18 percent of elderly in urban areas often feel lonely, while 31 percent of elderly rural residents suffered from loneliness. The investigation also indicated that 2.6 percent of elderly people in cities thought about suicide, while 4.9 percent of rural elderly thought about suicide.

Experts believe that having children and relatives away from home, disease and poverty are the main causes of suicide among the elderly. As China becomes a graying society and an increasing number of left-behind older people emerge, elder suicide may become a severe social problem in the future.

Despite the problems of older people, China has seen its suicide rate drop significantly compared with the increasing global suicide rate, which has increased by 60 percentage points over the past 45 years.

Xiao said that the reasons for China's decrease include more opportunities for people in diverse fields. The country has also been striving to make efforts to prevent suicide.

One sign of progress is that the suicide rate among rural Chinese women has dropped dramatically. In the 1980s, family disputes, unhappy marriages, poverty and easy access to pesticides contributed to a suicide rate exceeding 30 in 100,000 among rural women. The rate fell to 7.87 in 100,000 in 2009. The drop in the suicide rate of rural women may be due to mass migration to urban areas, ridding women of undeveloped living conditions and helping them gain legal and social assistance.

"Even one case of suicide is too much for society. I strongly advise that China create a national strategy to prevent suicide as soon as possible like some other countries have done," Xiao said.

We need to enhance psychological health education among people, improve the current mental health service system, keep eradicating suicide, reduce discrimination of those who have attempted suicide, as well as create more mental crisis intervention organizations, Xia said.

Xia suggested that China learn from the experience of other countries to set up a suicide prevention network nationwide, and the government should organize professional teams and recruit more participants, including police, social workers and volunteers, to cope with the problem.

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