Disturbing trend in boomer suicides

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 15/09/2013

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Baby boomers risk pushing our already high suicide rate to new levels as the rate of elderly people committing suicide skyrockets.

The baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1965) was a large group that had carried with it higher rates of suicide at all ages, a world expert on older adult suicide, Professor Yeates Conwell from New York, said at a conference in Auckland last week.

"So as [baby boomers] move into later life, a period of increased risk, the number of suicides may rise higher," he said.

Conwell said there was no conclusive evidence as to why the suicide rate among the baby boomer generation was higher, but our statistics back the disturbing trend.

Statistics released by chief coroner Neil MacLean showed men aged 80 and over have higher rates of suicide than any other age group in New Zealand.

In the year to June, nine men aged 85 or older committed suicide at a rate of 31 per 100,000. Three women of the same age committed suicide at a rate of six per 100,000.

The total number of suicides for any age group over the 2012/2013 June year was 541, a decrease of six from last year, and two less than the average number of suicides over the past six years.

Conwell, a geriatric psychiatrist, said common contributing factors to older people committing suicide included clinical depression or other mental illness, physical illness and functional impairment, and social disconnection.

Marie Hull-Brown, a mental health promoter at the Mental Health Foundation, said the figures were distressing but "not surprising".

"Seeing friends die, family moving away and one's home becoming increasingly hard to maintain are losses that are hard to bear, and older people may become depressed about their ability to manage alone, yet not want to see their GP about the black dog that sits on their shoulder."

Conwell said there needed to be improved detection and treatment of depression in older adults, social programmes to reach out to isolated seniors, and access to good health care that allowed them to remain as independent as possible.

If you or someone you know is feeling depressed contact the following services, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless otherwise specified.

Lifeline, 0800 543 354; Depression Helpline, 8am to midnight, 0800 111 757; Kidsline, for children up to 14, 4-6pm weekdays, 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline); Suicide Crisis Helpline, noon to midnight, 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO); Youthline, 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz; www.thelowdown.co.nz or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626 (emails and text messages will be responded to between noon and midnight).

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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