Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Senior Suicide Surge in Japan

Japan has the fastest ageing population in the world, and their culture has given the country one of the world's highest suicide rates. In 2007, senior citizens aged 60 years old and over chose to take their own lives and die with honor, rather than to live a life in penury and shame. The retired citizens are depressed, ill and in debt; yet have no desire to be a burden to the state nor to their kin, knowing the high cost of health insurance and the enormous dislocation their family will go through to care for them in their old age.

A total of 12,107 elderly people committed suicide last year, 9% over 2006, and accounting for 40% of total suicides in the country. In a nation where life expectancy for men is 78 years and for women at 85 years old, having to live 10 to 20 years as a dependent could be too much for their long held principles and beliefs. It would be a painful existence wrought with shame where suicide would be swift and honorable.

The Japanese government created measures to provide more workplace counselling to the retiring employees to stem depression, and even blocked websites that offer suicide tips. It also encouraged companies to employ the elderly, to provide them with additional income and a sense of worth and value as a contributor to household income and the national economy. But the efforts have yet to take root as the recent months saw a rash of suicides from those who look beyond their productive life into their more sedentary stages. A recent scandal involving millions of lost pension funds aggravated concerns about social security capabilities of the state.

Japan has a long tradition of honoring the elderly. The practice of the eldest son or the wife of the eldest son caring for the elderly people runs very deep into the Japanese culture. But traditions are changing. Today, the number of people living in a nursing home or welfare facility for the aged is increasing, with the cost shared between the old person, the family, and the state. And those retirees, whose entire lives were formed by the traditions and beliefs handed down by the elders of their time, and who clung to these ideas certain that they will be equally cared for, may be finding it painful to force themselves to accept the changing family structures and values of their younger kin.

One can only imagine the overpowering loneliness and sense of isolation of those senior citizens who feel abandoned and uncared for. And yet, having to express satisfaction at being happy and comfortable in a facility to avoid worrying or disappointing their children when regular visits are due, adds stress to their already stretched emotions. Returning to isolation until the next visit elicits a profound emptiness, since the just concluded goodbye was not even enough to satisfy the hunger for warmth and affection so eagerly sought.

The ageing population of Japan comes with social and economic problems in the short and long term horizons, and solutions are slow in coming. Immigration as an option is a sensitive issue that would need a lot of serious consideration for a race conservative society. But the speed at which the problem grows and its impact on those affected has allowed the senior citizens to implement their own solutions. Solutions that do not provide a good image of Japan as a humane society.



Zhu said...

Japanese society is a very unique one I think. When I was at school, we would always learn it was work-oriented and that people would work all their life for a single company. That was a little while ago (10 yrs...). Of course, this is not true anymore...

It seems that the social model changed a lot the last few years and it will take time to adapt.

Jenaisle said...

That is sad. Old people should go silently and at peace. Not only their children and grandchildren but the society as well should take active part in assisting and helping these old people.

We would be taking their place eventually, so we should treat them as we want to be treated later on.

Good post.

Kim said...

very sad Durano..
I can understand why they feel this way though...
sometimes the only choice left for many in this situation is to commit suicide...
the government (like ours)....does not provide enough for the elderly and this situation will not improve until seniors are paid decent pensions and/or superannuation...
a very thought provoking post ...

Tapline said...

Brad, I agree with Kim this is a very thought provoking post. We in America have gone from the extended family to the nucleus family to the single parent family to the civil union family. Parents are not thougt of as having more wisdom as one ages, rather they are looked upon as children or better still a bother and burdensome to the families trying to stay afloat in these rocky times. Nursing home costs are sky rocketing and no let up in sight. However, I do not think it is up to the government to take on this role of caring for the elderly. We do have medicare to obsorbs some of the cost of Nursing Home and elder care, and one might argue that that is government care, Well it is but it is care that everyone pays a monthly fee for once in the age bracked that one becomes eligible for that benefit. The answer I believe still remains with the children to care for their parents if it is within their ability, such as an amblitory person capable of doing for themselves, but need some supervision in preparing meals and health concerns etc...Once bed ridden it is a different story.,,,but within reason......stay well.....

SheR. said...

I read this article last evening with tears in my eyes. I feel really sad when I see the elderly suffer. When children suffer, there's always hope that someone can save them and give them a brighter future. For the elderly, there's no such privilege.

I understand what they meant by dying with honour. My mum told me the same thing. If she ever gone into a coma state or has Alzheimer's, let her die in honour instead of trying to save her.

I have a Japanese boss. He himself is over 50s and his elderly mum is in her 80s. He told when he got retrenched years ago, he has to struggle to find something else to do. That's why he started his business. It was due to this very reason that he never gave up even when business in bad. He has a family of 2 children together with his mum to support. Poor man has taken everything upon himself.

The Fitness Diva said...

So, so sad. I didn't know that the tradition of caring for your elders into their old age had begun to change in Japan. I'm sure it's not easy on either end, but for an elder's life to end in suicide is just too tragic.

The entire world is becoming just a bit too modern and selfish, I guess.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zhu,

The work pattern you mention is the long term career perspective established by the Japanese Business model since the 60's, where people would get promoted only after 10 years, to make sure they have experienced all aspects of the company's operations through rotation in various departments. A batch coming in at the same year would all be promoted after 10 years, but were given increases annually during the term.

Anyone resigning within the period would have to start in a new company on Year 1 again. This was the agreement among the Japanese, to build company loyalty and expertise as well.

The speed of technological development and globalization changed all these, as with many Japanese traditions. The older folks are having difficulty adapting or refuse to do so, since their minds have been molded from the old school.

The culture shock is taking its toll on the senior citizens and septuagenarians. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

HI Jena Isle,

I used to say to my friends, "watch how you treat your children, they will select your old age home one day".

The problem of social security funding had been discussed since the 1990's where the larger population of retiring workers will have to be supported by fewer people in the workforce. Thus the inevitable increase in Social security contributions may be necessary. But the rise in fuel, food, and all other commodities' prices is proving to be a huge burden on the average wage earner.

Other implemented policies exacerbated this problem like early retirement and longer life spans. It meant that the retirees would have to be supported for a much longer period from the productivity of the younger workers.

Sadly, no concrete solutions have been made. What we see are breaks in traditions, retirees living in penury, and children wanting to live their own lives unburdened by expenses in an already high standard of living. Population decline also contributed to this phenomenon.

The family values we used to know are changing all over the world, not just Japan, and it may be a sad world our children will be facing because of it. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

It is tough having to face illness in old age and not have the means to cure yourself. It is even tougher for people who worked all their lives to give love and care to those they reared, and practically worked their entire lives for.

It is toughest to see them sacrifice their own needs to see them spending for your burdensome expenses, but even more so to be brought to a home and be alone and isolated from everything you envisioned to enjoy in your final years.

The choices are difficult, but I believe there is some degree of dismissal from most governments where retirees are concerned. I don't want to think that governments regard retirees as expendable after being used profitably, but their prioritization in terms of needs are way below the list.

This, I feel is the unkindest cut of all. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Tapline,

Governments are still the biggest recipients of benefits from the fruits of labor's output. That being the case, governments must share in the retirement costs of these retirees when their productive years have declined.

Taxes should be treated as just like having part of the income saved so that the person can live on the interest, the government can keep the principal. But government overspending, misappropriation, failed projects and corruption, have depleted much if not all of the principal, such that there is no interest to live on.

This is how I view governments role and the resulting impact of the greed and mindlessness of its politicians. There is no distinction here of Democrat or Republican, Labor or Tory, and whatever divisions there are. All I'm pointing to is their sense of humanity and justice. But it seems using people has always been a mindset of government, caring for people is merely lip service. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Sher,

There is a degree of brutality and meanness in this situation. It's when you've outlived your usefulness and/or economic contribution to the household or national economy; you have no worth and are, in fact, just matter that occupies space and has weight - and a huge medical bill.

Love, caring and nurturing is gone and you become invisible even in the eyes of those you loved, cared for and cherished.

If this trend continues, everything will be sacrificed for the sake of comfort and expediency. Love will vanish in this world, and even marriages may no longer be contracts of affection that bind couples "in sickness and in health, richer or poorer, till death do us part", but merely for "as long as I reap benefits, I have no unnecessary expenses, and I'm still attracted and satisfied".

Some marriage huh. Wait till they get to retirement age, perhaps they will be asked to select freedom or death. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

The world started to become modern and selfish a long time ago. But is it really modernity? It seems we are going back to the stone ages where it was everyone for himself was the rule.

We have built relationships and institutions that support these, like ceremonies and traditions; and we are tearing these apart in the name of modernity and expediency.

The grown up children who treat their elderly parents outside of practiced traditions, how do you think they will be treated by their own parents when their time comes? Will they expect compassion, caring, nurturing? Even now there are so many cases of dumping of old people in homes and conveniently forgotten.

The consumerist oriented society that evolved created a mindset that discards those that no longer have any use for their current needs or patterns of living. This has now included the elderly parents.

Discards of society whose guidance and love is no longer required to plot my direction since "I'm old enough to take care of me, indulge me, satisfy me, make me happy.The past is over and I will look forward only to the future, my future ". This is our modern society. It looks really selfish doesn't it? :-) --Durano, done!

SheR. said...

Hey but Durano, there's always hope in this world. Just look at how many of us responded "violently" to this post. As long as there are people like us carrying on the tradition of Filial Piety. The elderly may not all have to suffer.

Know what my dream is when I made enough money? Start a home for the aged. I want to give them hope.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

HI Sher,

Okay, I understand, but with your own parents and uncles and aunts, you will have your hands full.

And if you start a home for the aged, I could join you there, as one of the residents!LOL! :-) --Durano, done!

ZenDenizen said...

My cousin (oldest brother) and his wife take care of my aging aunt and uncle. They have basically created the old world right here in NJ. It's sweet but must be a complete drag at times as well.