The Australian – 29th September 2016
Rick Morton, Social Affairs Reporter
Older Australians who die by suicide at a rate dramatically higher than young people are hidden in the public debate because the “thought of grandfathers and grandmothers killing themselves is almost unbearable”.
Latest suicide data, released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, reveals men aged 85 and older died at the rate of almost 40 in every 100,000 last year, partly due to terminal and incurable illnesses which drove them to take their own lives.
The harrowing stories of many such elderly people were presented to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry by coroner John Olle late last year in testimony that helped swing opinion within Victoria in favour of euthanasia.
“We know we need to do more to give people a better death, and to support more people with terminal illnesses to have their end-of-life wishes known and respected,” Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said.
“I believe the government and the parliament needs to look at assisted dying very closely.” The state is due to respond to the inquiry report by December.
The national data shows a slight rise to 18 in the overall rate of men and women aged 85 and older who die by suicide, up from a low of 13 in 2007.
The rate of suicide among people in their late 40s jumped from 16.5 to 20.8, the highest in the nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children between five and 17 died at a rate of almost 10 in every 100,000 between 2011-2015, compared with a rate of 1.8 for non-indigenous children.
Indigenous people died by suicide at more than double the rate of non-indigenous people across all age groups.
Last year 3027 people killed themselves, the highest number in a decade, sparking calls for a national summit.
Black Dog Institute chairman Peter Joseph saidthe stories of older Australians were often hidden because of “stigma”. “This group die by suicide six times greater than the average and it is clearly getting worse,” he said.
“The science and the reasons behind suicide are obviously complex but clearly one of the factors here are end-of-life illnesses and pain; we heard the tragic stories from Victoria’s coroner that they just take things into their own hands. We are better than that and we are more humane than that.”
Mr Joseph said that many could not stomach the thought of people with terminal illnesses dying at their own hand.
“We hate to think of grandfathers and grandmothers killing themselves and it just goes against every instinct we have; it is almost unbearable to think about,” he said.
Mr Joseph said his institute was trialling an intensive program to deal with the social, medical and complex factors which influenced suicide statistics.
The program aimed to improve access to mental healthcare; tie in quality education programs for such people as emergency staff, teachers and GPs; minimise access to lethal means; and encourage safe conversations about suicide in schools, workplaces and communities.
If you are depressed or contemplating suicide, help is available at Lifeline on 131 114