Depressed emotions on rise in old people

Updated: 2011-05-25 08:09

By Li Xinzhu (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - More elderly people in Chinese cities are suffering from feelings of depression, which are becoming almost as common in China as they are in developed countries, according to recent research.

A team from the Laboratory of Mental Health under the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that nearly 40 percent of the elderly people living in Chinese cities are suffering from feelings of depression, significantly more than had experienced such feelings 20 years ago.

In conducting the study, researchers looked at more than 4,900 people. The subjects hailed from 29 prominent cities and were all older than 55.

Elderly people with feelings of depression are prone to develop clinical depression, a true mental illness, according to Li Juan, director of the research team.

"Serious depression can lead to suicide," Li said.

Li said the number of elderly people suffering from feelings of depression is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1990s, when family ties were stronger and the country was less urbanized.

The elderly now must contend with a fast-changing society and can no longer seek a haven in old traditions, many of which have been overthrown. More of the elderly also now live apart from their children in "empty nests", according to Li.

"These changes have influenced the psychological health of elderly people."

Above all, the death of a spouse can give rise to feelings of depression.

"Getting love and support from family is a good way of dealing with depression," she said.

But for many of the elderly, such support is hard to find.

"I feel quite lonely sometimes," said Xia Cuiping, an 86-year-old woman who has lived alone since her husband's death.

"I always wanted my children to come back to visit me, but they have to take care of their own families and are very busy at work."

Xia's two daughters live not far away from her in Shanghai. Yet, despite being so close, they only come to visit her once a week.

As for her two sons, both are businessmen who spend most of their time abroad and can only find time to come to her house once a year during the Chinese New Year.

"I am not blaming them for that," Xia said. "After all, they have their own lives."

Xia said she has joined several elderly people's communities where she can write calligraphy, dance and pursue other pastimes.

But not every elderly person can find comfort in such things.

"My mom always calls me at my work and keeps telling me about little things," said Wang Min, a university lecturer who lives in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province. She lives about five hours by bus away from her mother's home.

Wang's mother is a 58-year-old retired teacher who has not worked for more than five years.

"She has plenty of time during the day since my father still goes to work," Wang said. "I always ask her to take on some outside interests, but she can't and gets angry very easily."

"I felt guilty and am trying my best, but still cannot help," she said. "I am very worried about her state of mind."

The latest census data, released by the National Bureau of Statistics in April, showed that the number of people who are 60 or older rose to make up 13.26 percent of the mainland's population of 1.34 billion in 2010. In 2000, it had been 10.3 percent of the population.


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