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CHINA: Men Becoming More Suicide-Prone

Mitch Moxley

BEIJING, Feb 20 2011 (IPS) - While new research indicates that China’s overall suicide rate has been in decline for the last two decades, some segments of the population – including urban males and the elderly – are increasingly likely to take their own lives, the result of breakneck social change in the world’s most populous country.

Just over a decade ago, the suicide rate among rural citizens was much higher than urban dwellers, and more women committed suicide than men, according to China’s Ministry of Health, and reported in state media last year. Since then, however, there has been a 30 percent decrease in rural suicide rates, and more Chinese men are now reported to be taking their own lives than women. Precise figures have not been made available.

Suicides rates among the elderly living in urban areas have also climbed in recent years as China’s population ages. The suicide rate of people aged 70 to 74 and living in urban centres climbed to 33.76/100,000 in the period from 2000-2008, up from 13.39/100,000 in the 1990s, according to figures released in September and published in state media.

Rising medical costs and the hardship of relocation have contributed to rising depression rates among the elderly, Jing Jun, professor at Tsinghua University’s Department of Sociology, told Xinhua News Agency. As the country rapidly develops, many elderly people in China’s cities have been forced to relocate from traditional housing in the city centres to apartments on the outskirts.

Some senior citizens also feel abandoned by children who have not taken up the traditional filial role of supporting their parents into old age, Jing said.

Although the suicide rate appears to be rising among some segments of society, new research indicates that the overall rate has been in decline. Due to a significant drop in women’s suicides rates in rural areas in the last 20 years, China’s national suicide rate declined from 17.65/100,000 people in 1987 to 6.6/100,000 in 2008, far below that year’s global rate of 14.5/100,000, according to research by Tsinghua’s Jing.

The recent drop in suicide among rural women has been attributed to the mass migration to urban centres, which has lifted many rural women out of their subordinate roles in the family.

Earlier research had indicated that China has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, especially among rural women. A study in 2007, published in China’s state media, indicated that more than 287,000 people were ending their own lives every year on the Chinese mainland. The data, released by the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Centre, found that stress and depression caused 70 to 80 percent of suicides in urban areas.

Half of the suicides in China were women in rural areas, and the most common method of suicide was ingesting pesticides, the study found. Suicide was found to be the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 34 and more than 20 percent of 140,000 high school students surveyed in a two- year study by Peking University had said they had considered committing suicide.

Last year saw a spate of suicides at factories in China, including a string of high-profile suicides at Foxconn Technologies’ factories in Shenzhen, a boomtown in Southern China. The suicides were attributed to poor working conditions and long hours at Foxconn, the world’s biggest contract maker of information technology goods.

Experts have said China’s massive social transformation has left many young people suffering from isolation and depression, and now those who have made the move from rural to urban areas.

Wu Fei, associate professor at Peking University’s Department of Philosophy, says suicide has not traditionally been a problem in China, but that many Chinese have not been able to adjust to the rapid social transformation of the last three decades.

Wu tells IPS that as China made economic development its top priority, many social problems have been ignored, including “conflict inside families, quarrels between couples and parents beating their children. These never attract attention, but they are actually fundamental problems.”

Zhan Chunyun, dean of the Guangzhou-based Kangning Psychology Hotline, says the three-decade old one-child policy has contributed to suicides among China’s youth. He says young people are most likely to commit suicide because of the intense pressures they face as only children.

“It’s a clear trend – an increasing number of young people killing themselves,” Zhan says. “Families put all their hope on one child. The reason why increasing number of youngsters, even little kids, commit suicide is because they can’t take the burden. It is too heavy.”

Zhang says the government has established a growing number of psychological clinics, but many of the counselors do not have proper training. Most hospitals only offer prescription medicine, when many patients need psychological help, he adds.

Yan Jun, an officer from the Ministry of Health, told People’s Daily that the ministry is improving management for mental illness treatment and is expanding the availability of treatment for common mental illnesses. Health care institutions are working to prevent and treat depression in order to lower suicide rates, Yan said.

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