More elderly Singaporeans killing themselves

From ‘More seniors in Singapore taking own lives’, 17 Dec 2015, article by Janice Tai, ST

…Last year (2014), 126 seniors aged 60 and above killed themselves. This is a jump of nearly 60 per cent from the 79 seniors who committed suicide in 2000. There were 95 of them in 2010.

While the suicide rate in Singapore has remained at between eight and 10 suicides per 100,000 residents over the past decade, the proportion of the elderly among those who take their lives each year has risen.

In 2000, 23 per cent of suicides here were from among the elderly. By 2010, the group made up 27 per cent, and the number grew to 30 per cent last year.

In less than 20 years, a fifth of Singapore’s population will be at least 65 years of age, making our country a ‘super-aged’ nation. Despite this, our Government still sees the ‘silver’ lining behind the challenge of dealing with millions of old folks, that they could turn a burden into a ‘positive force for social and economic development’. In other words, we will try our darnedest to keep you productive, but nothing much can be done about your psychological well-being. Other than, well, giving you priority queues for everything.

We used to think that longevity and advances in medical technology would make our ‘golden years’ less miserable than they’re supposed to be, but not every senior citizen will spend their twilight years watching their last sunsets on a hill with loved ones by their side. Some will end up rotting in a house with no one noticing until the stench overwhelms your Indian neighbour’s pungent curry. If you’re counting on your children or grandchildren to keep you sane till your dying breath, you better hope they don’t beat you to it and commit suicide themselves too. Yes, those below 10 years included.

Having one of the highest rate of diabetes in the world isn’t helping either. Not only are we ageing faster, we’re getting sicker too. Not every old foggie wants to socialise in the seniors’ corner or have the time for your ‘community activities’, especially if there’s cardboard to be pushed and sold, or if you’re struck with dementia and spend your days indoors trying to figure out how to get out of your pants to take a piss. Our grandfathers used to entertain the family with war stories and tales of famine and survival. When it’s my turn, nobody will give a shit about how I passed my PSLE, or how I met my wife online. The kids will come, give Gramps a hug, and then go stare at their phones for the rest of the visit.

If I were to find myself immobile, physically dependent on a bedpan and have to live with the shame of a helper cleaning up after my foul incontinence, then yes, I’d rather die before being transferred to a retirement village and oblige dancing kindergarten kids with an ugly toothless grin and arthritic clapping. Deplete my bank account to pay for that additional hospital stay and a pill worth more than a ferry ride to seedy Batam for one last fling? Hell no.

The term for killing yourself to spare others the pain of caring for you is ‘altruistic suicide’, which makes the act sound as heroic as sacrificing yourself by taking a grenade in the face for your loved one. The tricky bit is how to end it all painlessly. I can’t possibly roll myself off the top of my block, not to mention pop a hundred painkillers into my mouth without shaking them all onto the floor if I’ve got Parkinson’s. Which may explain why some old folks decide not to wait for the inevitable decline and meet their maker when they still have the strength to climb the stairway (to heaven).

Interestingly, someone speculated a link between opium and elderly suicide in 1975. Or rather, the lack of it. Another theory about why it tended to be Chinese men who took their own lives rather than the Muslims was possibly religion, which makes taking your own life a cardinal sin for the latter. Whatever it is, loneliness, money problems, shitty unfilial kids or just abject futility at the whole purpose of your existence, maybe it’s time our Government reboots their thinking of geriatric care and study how we can age gracefully, and not obsess whether we have enough money to carry us to our graves.

We should look at other less affluent societies where old people celebrate life even without the best nurses or hospitals that money can bring, where they’ll sip wine, laugh, enjoy slow dancing, and go skinny dipping in an icy lake without being hauled up for indecent exposure, where they’ll reminisce on the trivial absurdities of their youth, rather than harp on a lifetime of missed chances and regrets.

 

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