“Structural discrimination” against the elderly and ageist attitudes contribute to an ­“obscenely high” rate of suicides among Australia’s oldest men, experts and advocates say.

Concerns have deepened with the emergence of a NSW Health document admitting “contagious” ageist attitudes led to health professionals “under-­recognising and under-treating and not reacting to (suicide) warning signs”.

Healthcare experts spoke out in the lead-up to a NSW parliamentary forum in Sydney on Wednesday that will examine why males aged 85 and over had the nation’s highest suicide rates. Men in this age group were three times more likely to kill themselves than the national average.

“I am very concerned that both misinformed or discriminatory attitudes and acts of omission, particularly in policy, service planning and media representation, contribute to some of these deaths,” said the NSW Institute of Psychiatry director of psychiatry and mental health programs, Rod McKay.

A NSW Health document seen by The Australian suggests ageist attitudes, including a ­belief depression is a “normal part of ageing”, are being ­“accepted” by clinicians, leading to warning signs not being heeded. Government figures show that in 2013 the suicide rate for men aged 85 and over was 38 per 100,000 people.

Ian Day, chief executive of Council on the Ageing NSW, which is organising the forum, said “horrific discrimination” was “absolutely” contributing to suicides.

Research identifies depression, anxiety and “poor social support” as main factors assoc­iated with suicidal thinking in Australians aged 60 to 101.

This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 24 August 2015.


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