Growing old but still dying young

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New Zealand’s suicide rate is down. But there’s an unhappy story here about our elderly.

Figures for the year ending 30 June 2014 show that our overall suicide rate is at its lowest since the year ending 30 June 2008. Whether it’s the overall economic environment and direction, hopelessness / hopefulness about jobs or more personal scenarios: Family hardship (or an improvement therein), relationship status, or (hopefully!) improvement in the shape of mental health services, this is encouraging. Mental health and suicide has been thrust into the limelight recently, and that’s a brilliant thing.

Something caught my eye about the good news, however. On the whole the story is one of improvement. Fantastic. But not all demographics did well. Youth suicide is falling, which is wonderful news, but suicide among those over 60 is on the rise – especially those over 80. This is really sad. Of course suicide is sad, but this is particularly sad because of what most likely lies behind many of these deaths: The thought that you are a burden. Our elders should never come to feel this way about themselves.

When people, young or old, do not feel valued enough for us to care about them to the point where they will literally kill themselves, handing them the gun is not the answer.

The reason this statistic about our older people stood out to me is because in recent years in New Zealand there has been an ever-increasing push for euthanasia. I have no doubt that those behind the push intend to champion compassion, however misguided I think they are. But it’s the recipe for a perfect storm: An older demographic that is looking for a way out because it does not feel valued and feels more like a burden than a treasure, and a lobby group – intentionally or otherwise – giving them a way out. No doubt the pressure placed on the elderly to ease the burden on the rest of us in this way would not be overt. It will be subtle, couched lovingly, somehow. But it’s not the answer for our older people any more than it should be the problem for our younger people. When people, young or old, do not feel valued enough for us to care about them to the point where they will literally kill themselves, handing them the gun is not the answer.

Dystopia is a word that comes to mind if this change takes place.

Glenn Peoples

Some appropriately themed music: Twilight, by Tourniquet.

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