The latest set of figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirms a post war trend in the British population of steadily reducing suicide rates among the over 65s, particularly men.
This flies in the face of the experience of nearly every other country in the world.
In 2014 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first report on suicide prevention in which it stated categorically that “suicide rates are highest in persons aged 70 years or over for both men and women in almost all regions of the world.”.
Yet in the UK the trend has steadily declined from a high point of around 50 per 1000 men over 65 during the depression years before WWII to 14.5 per 1000 in 2013.
For women the figure is even lower, less than 4 per 1000 women over 65 took their own lives in 2013.
One factor behind the shifting positions in this grisly league table is an increase in middle aged (45 to 59) male suicides to a 35-year high of 25 per 1000.
Observers are suggesting that this is the direct effect of economic factors, this being the age group hit hardest by job losses and benefit reform, including the pension crisis which saw many of those who had worked and saved for 25 years or more lose everything almost overnight.
Others argue that the elderly have been hit just as hard by the government’s austerity programme, particularly in terms of healthcare and disability benefits.
In any case this shift has been occurring over a sixty year timeframe, outlasting the peaks and troughs of other age groups.
There does seem to be a direct correlation between the declining suicide rate among senior males and the growth of the understanding and involvement of socialised medicine and healthcare, both physical and mental, in the well-being of older men.
Charity groups have long warned that feelings of loneliness and lack of purpose can lead to despair in the liveliest and most agile minds.
These elements are worth bearing in mind as we move into a period where many more people will be outliving their partners, both male and female.
Projections to 2030 estimate that the total of older men living alone will increase by 65%, so perhaps we shouldn’t take this improvement for granted.
Globally, some 800,000 people a year commit suicide, that’s as many people as there are worshippers attending Church of England services on a typical Sunday.
Among the worst records with an increasing problem of elderly suicide is South Korea where the rate among men over 70 was over 192 per 1000.
6,233 Britons took their own lives in 2013, the overall suicide rate was 11.9 per 1000.
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