Age of Disillusion Haunts Senior Citizens
Age of Disillusion Haunts Senior Citizens|Cover Story|chinadaily.com.cn
Battles with illness, loneliness and post-retirement blues are pushing China’s elderly population into a spiral of depression and fragile mental health.
‘Granny” Li has attempted suicide three times. First, she tried to gas herself by leaving the oven turned on, but her neighbors smelled the gas and intervened. The second time she took an overdose of sleeping pills, and on the third she jumped into a deep pond and tried to drown herself. However, Li’s now-vigilant neighbors saved her on those occasions too.
The 60-year-old lives alone in the Pukou district of Nanjing in East China’s Jiangsu province. One day in 2011, she opened the door to a young man selling healthcare products. On hearing the young man call her “mum”, Li - whose son and daughter live in different districts of Nanjing and hadn’t visited her for more than a year - was reduced to tears and bought products worth more than 30,000 yuan ($4,800).
After that, the young man visited Li frequently. Sometimes he even took her to the local gardens. However, once she stopped buying his products, the young man disappeared. Driven to despair, Li began her series of suicide attempts.
Zhang Chun, director of Nanjing’s Psychological Crisis Intervention Center, where Li received therapy each time she tried to end her life, said that many empty-nesters are deceived by the unscrupulous because they are lonely and desperate for human contact.
“Empty-nesters generally have little communication with other people and so there is a higher chance of brain atrophy,” he said. “More attention should be paid to the mental health of the elderly.”
Lonely and helpless
The suicide rate in China is highest among those aged 60 or older, according to Huang Runlong, professor at the Institute of Population at Nanjing Normal University.
“Compared with young people, the elderly are more sensitive to loneliness and helplessness,” he said.
Statistics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences show that people aged 60 and older constituted nearly 50 percent of those who requested professional counseling in the year after a magnitude-8 earthquake battered Wenchuan in Sichuan province in 2008, leaving more than 80,000 people dead or missing.
In a recent investigation launched across Jiangsu province, 53.9 percent of empty-nesters described themselves as “useless”, and 58.3 percent felt “very lonely”, according to the Xinhua Daily newspaper in Nanjing.
The mental health of elderly Chinese is deteriorating “unexpectedly quickly”, according to Li Bengong, president of the Gerontological Society of China.