One in every 2.3 deaths by suicide in Hong Kong last year involved the elderly and a suicide prevention group put part of the blame for the statistic on the long-running coronavirus pandemic.
Hong Kong recorded 1,010 deaths by suicide last year, eight down on the 1,018 recorded in 2020, but an increase of 10 per cent on the 916 logged in 2017.
The statistics showed 446 suicides involved people aged 60 or above, 44 per cent of the total deaths.
The number was up 2 per cent on the 437 recorded in 2020, 18 per cent up on the 379 in 2019 and 26 per cent up on the 353 deaths by suicide logged in 2018.
Vincent Ng Chi-kwan, the executive director of the charity Suicide Prevention Services, said on Friday an increase in the number of people who had taken their own lives over the past five years, especially a surge in those involving elderly people, was a worry and that he feared the problem could get worse.
“The number of people who died from suicide has reached an alarming level,” Ng said.
“We are worried that the number of elderly people who die from suicide will keep rising given the city’s rapidly ageing population.”
Ng blamed the 2019 social unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic, which had caused a deterioration in the mental health of Hongkongers, for the increased suicide figures.
He said the coronavirus crisis had been a significant blow to elderly people, who lived in constant fear of catching the virus and were often deprived of human contact because of measures designed to combat Covid-19.
The statistics, which used figures from the Coroner’s Court, also showed more than three in five of those who took their own lives in 2021 were men, a total of 636 deaths.
Out of 446 suicides that involved the elderly last year, 246 were aged 70 or more and about three in five, 275 people, were men.
Suicide Prevention Services runs a round-the-clock hotline, which took a total of 69,800 calls for help in the first six months of the year, up 21 per cent on the 57,820 calls taken over the same time frame in 2021.
The service received about 11,000 calls a month from January to June, with a record high of 12,720 in May.
Most people called for help with mental problems as well as for difficulties with marriage and relationships.
The charity logged a total of 125,645 calls last year.
Justin Leung Wing-tong, programme manager of the charity’s outreach befriending service for the suicidal elderly, said having someone to talk to and keep them company was crucial for the elderly over the pandemic.
He added his organisation was working on an app which could make it easier for elderly residents to communicate with their families.
The app could also help assess the mental state of older people and provide useful information.
The service also has volunteers who can make home visits.
Dr William Chui Wing-ho, a psychiatrist and an honorary adviser to the charity, said the key to suicide prevention was the early identification and treatment of mental health problems.
He added families and friends should give more support to elderly people, take time to listen to them and help improve connections with loved ones as well as with social workers.