by Xinhua Writers Yao Yuan, Zhang Le, Zheng Qian
BEIJING, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- The suicide rate among the elderly living in urban areas rose to a worrying high in recent years, as China saw increases in the age of its population, an expert warned at a seminar held in Peking University recently.
The suicide rate among elderly Chinese residing in urban areas and aged from 70 to 74, for example, surged to 33.76/100,000 per year during the 2002-2008 period, up from 13.39/100,000 in the 1990s, said Jing Jun, professor from the Department of Sociology at Tsinghua University.
Among others, rising medical costs and hardship after relocations contributed to increasing despair among the elderly, said Jing.
Many of China's urban elders had lived in the old quarters of the cities, which have faced mass demolitions as China pushed for a quick modernization of its cities.
"The relocation could be a bane to senior citizens in many ways, like projecting them into unfamiliar communities, lengthening the distance from their family members, and raising disputes on property rights," said Jing.
Further, China's highlight of children's filial obligations for their aging parents, contradicted by the fast-paced modern life, may work the opposite in worsening the situation.
"Tradition-minded elders may feel particularly distressed if their children fail to provide enough care," said Tu Keguo, director of the Confucianism Study Institution at Shandong Academy of Social Sciences.
But thanks to a significant decline in rural women's suicide rates during the last 20 years, China's national suicide rate declined from 17.65/100,000 in 1987 to 6.6/100,000 in 2008, well below that year's global rate of 14.5/100,000, according to Jing's research.
The drop in the suicide rate of rural women could be attributed to the mass migration to urban areas, which pulled many rural women out of their subordinate role in their families, said Jing.
In the single year of 2009, a total of 44 million women are estimated to have moved to China's coastal urban areas as migrant workers.
But this year, young migrant workers have also attracted intense media coverage and public debate over their fragile mental state, after serial suicides, all by young migrants born after 1985, took place at the Foxconn factories in south China's boomtown of Shenzhen.
"It still lacks evidence to say that these young migrant workers are more likely to commit suicide, although they come from a generation (late 80s) labeled as more dependent, fragile, and unrealistic," said Yu Xin, professor from Peking University Sixth Hospital, who has conducted a survey among Foxconn workers.
But other experts admit that as China transforms its huge agricultural population into urban residents, both young migrants and the country should be mentally prepared.
"Compared with accidents and natural disasters, China is less experienced in dealing with social crises like mass suicides," said Wang Lei, professor from the Department of Psychology in Peking University.
"So far, China is still in want of a policy on suicide prevention," said Jing.