Chronic physical ailments, depression, loneliness and neglect by families are driving the elderly in the State to commit suicide.
Suicide among the elderly - those above 60 years - in Kerala has been going up steadily over the past three years. The current rate of suicide in the State is 25.4 per one lakh population. The percentage of elderly who committed suicide in 2010 was 17.6, which went up to 18 per cent in 2011. In 2012, 8,490 people committed suicide in Kerala, of which 19.2 per cent were those above 60 years.
As per the 2011 Census, the elderly constitute about 13 per cent of the population in Kerala. An estimated 20 per cent of the elderly has been suffering from various mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders and adjustment issues, apart from the psychological distress caused by loneliness, neglect, abandonment by family members.
Dementia, substance abuse and stress due to elderly abuse are the recent entries on the list.
“The State has in recent times launched many initiatives in the health sector, including provision of free treatment and medicines for chronic non-communicable diseases, community-level mental heath care programmes and upgrading of mental illnesses treatment facilities, all of which benefit the elderly. But what medicine can you give to society to make children show love and concern for their parents? Depression associated with neglect and isolation within families and the feeling of “uselessness” it spawns are the major mental health issues among the elderly today,” points out a senior mental health professional.
The stress of chronic physical ailments, especially with the increase in the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as coronary artery diseases and cancer, limitation of mobility, loss of independence and increase in medical expenses are common problems that affect all elderly across the socio-economic divide.
The subsequent depression often goes undiagnosed or untreated and drive many to suicide.
The State’s mental health delivery system has been progressed remarkably in the past few years but as far as the rehabilitation and welfare of the elderly are concerned, more focussed initiatives from various social sectors are necessary to promote the well-being of older persons, it is pointed out.
Kerala is the first State in the country to have a well-running district mental health programme in all districts, which delivers mental health care at the primary care level.
Attempts to improve the availability of mental health professionals in the State have also begun to show results. If about three years ago, the State used to produce just four professionals with MD in psychiatry, the number has risen to 41. There is a State Mental Health Policy in place and rules have been framed.
“It is the attitude of society towards the elderly and their collective issues which needs to change now. We need sensitisation programmes on caring for the elderly right from the school-level. Families should understand that their support can do wonders for the self esteem and confidence of the elderly and boost their physical and mental well-being. The government should take the initiative to develop a cadre of care-givers who are professionally trained to handle geriatric care,” secretary of State Mental Health Authority D. Raju said.