Suicide rate of elderly soars in past two decades

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Social changes, economic hardship and a minimal social welfare system have been blamed for driving increasing numbers of elderly South Koreans to suicide.

The suicide rate among the elderly has surged by more than five times in the past 20 years, with the deaths accounting for 72.5 of every 100,000 deaths among those over 65 in 2003, according to the National Statistical Office. The global rate is 15 per 100,000.

Statistics show that in 2003, 2,760 South Koreans over 65 killed themselves, more than seven a day.

In 1983, suicide among the over-65s stood at 14.3 per 100,000 deaths. The figure stood at 55.8 in 2002 and 42.2 in 2001.

Social workers say older Koreans are falling foul of changing family structures as South Korea has increasingly transformed from a society of extended families to nuclear families, with young people now less likely to take responsibility for their elderly parents.

"They expect the government to take care of their parents and Korea doesn't have the infrastructure," said Seok Jae-eun, of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

South Korea has only a limited social safety net.

Older people living alone are three times as likely to take their own lives as those living with others, and the breakdown of the extended family means increasing numbers of senior citizens are living alone. Aged men are 1.5 times as likely to commit suicide as women.

The media periodically report on the most tragic cases. Earlier this year a couple in their 80s tried to end their lives by drinking poison and left a note saying they did not want to be a burden to their children. The husband survived but his wife died.

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