I was deeply concerned to read an ABS stat last week showing that men over the age of 85 are more likely to die by suicide than Australians of any other age group. The suicide rate for men aged 85 and older was 37.6 per 100,000 in 2012, more than triple the national rate.
These deaths are often linked to pain and health concerns, but are also a result of isolation, loss and depression.
Depression in the elderly is something I am acutely aware of. I am often contacted by elderly Canberrans who are unhappy in their older age - unhappy with their living arrangement, with what they perceive as a diminished role or standing in the community, or they are unhappy as a result of the loss of loved ones.
However, I am also lucky enough to meet many Canberrans who are happy and healthy in their ageing.
Recently, I visited an inspiring Canberran, Winnifred Rattigan, on her 100th birthday. Winnifred is a perfect example of active ageing. Despite her status as a centenarian she remains both physically and mentally active and connected with the community.
Winnifred visits the Weston Creek community centre once a week for exercise class and communal lunch. She also visits the Burrangiri Aged Care center weekly for classes that keep her up to date with news and current affairs.
When I visited Winnifred, she lamented the fact that more elderly weren’t involved in the community or participating in these activities.
I think that as a starting point it’s up to us as a community to actively engage with the elderly – be it school visits to aged care centres or ensuring we have the right community services available. And I commend Canberra groups like the Men’s Sheds, COTA, U3A and other seniors groups who are already providing wonderful services.
Of course, there is also a role for Government. We need to do a better job of planning for our elderly. This means ensuring social housing and aged care facilities are located in the heart of the community, near shops and schools. It means designing social housing specifically for the ageing.
It also means ensuring we have age-appropriate mental health services.
Australia is ageing and Canberra is ageing. We need to rethink how we treat and engage with the elderly if we are too age well.
“I don't believe in aging. I believe in forever altering one's aspect to the sun. ” ― Virginia Woolf