A leading Monash University professor this week said a lack of support and a feeling that they were a drain on the country’s healthcare resources was behind the high suicide rate of elderly men in Australia.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, men aged over 85 have the highest suicide rate in Australia, more than double the rate of teenagers.
The suicide rate for men aged 85 and older was 39.3 per 100,000 people. In women of the same age, it was 5.7.
Professor Paul Komesaroff, from Monash University’s health sciences department, told the ABC’s PM program that a lack of support was partly to blame for poor mental health in many elderly Australians.
"Elderly people have often been blamed for soaking up disproportionate quantities of our healthcare resources," he said.
"There's been a reduction in the support that has been made available for elderly people."
He said many older Australians had a mindset that not being as productive as they once were meant they had little to live for.
"They may well express to their doctor the view that they don't want care to be prolonged," he said.
"Not because they fear losing their capabilities or their capacities, but because they don't want to impose on the rest of society. It's their sense of responsibility.
"And of course, that's a terrible tragedy because these are the people who have actually created the wealth."
Listen to the PM report
The high suicide rate of men over the age of 85 is a shocking statistic, but it is even worse when you consider that part of the problem is the way the older generations are made to feel about their impact on society.
The elderly have contributed so much to make this country great and they are still highly valued by most members of society. However, recent discussions surrounding the pension do little to show how much we value the elderly.
Earlier this year, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Kate Carnell suggested that the Age Pension should be treated as a loan repayable when the family home is sold. She claimed that Australia risked a ‘Greek-style’ debt crisis if so-called ‘runaway’ spending on the Age Pension was not reined in.
Then we had the chair of the Abbott Government’s Commission of Audit Tony Shepherd saying that Australia risked being crippled by pension spending.
It isn’t only big business, the Government tries at every opportunity to paint the picture of the pension as an increasing cost that can no longer be afforded, referring to welfare dependency as ‘poison’ and persisting with a push to extend the retirement age to 70.
With this constant source of negative feedback on the contribution of the elderly, it is no wonder that so many seniors get the feeling that they are a drain on society. It is time for the Government and big business interests to consider the social cost of their arguments and the effect on the mental health of elderly Australians before they trot out lines designed to make people feel unwanted and unloved.
An investment in more resources for mental health support services targeted at this age group would also go a long way to helping redress these terrible figures.
Do you think the recent discourse regarding the Age Pension is contributing to a sense of worthlessness among the elderly? Should the Government do more to aid suicide prevention among the elderly?
Australian readers seeking support and information about suicide and depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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