“Nothing to be happy about”: Suicide themed calls from Czech seniors doubled last year

"Die Another Day” (Dnes Neumírej)

Suicide themed phone calls among seniors rose twofold between the years 2021 and 2022, according to Czechia’s helpline for old age people Linka seniorů. I asked the head of the helpline, Dr Kateřina Bohatá, why this is the case.

“Our helpline, which is free of charge and anonymous, receives approximately one to two calls from seniors with suicidal thoughts every day.

Kateřina Bohatá | Photo: Czech Television

“We see the increase in suicide-themed calls as a result of the long-term burden on society. After two years of the pandemic there followed the war in Ukraine and the economic crisis. They have all highlighted the difficulties that seniors face in their everyday life. Their burdens simply became unbearable.”

Could you explain these burdens in more detail? For example, on an example of a phone call.

“Usually these seniors are dealing with multiple burdens. The senior who is experiencing suicidal thoughts usually talks about feeling abandoned, totally lonely, disconnected from society, suffering from a chronic illness, using up their financial reserves during the pandemic and highlights the costs of everyday living and housing.

“They often talk of a lack of hope. Of there being nothing to be happy about. Nothing to wait for that would make them happy. They feel like they don’t want to live in such conditions anymore and they mostly feel like they are increasingly alone to solve these problems and difficult situations that they are experiencing.

“The most helpful thing that we can do through the phone call is to establish some sort of deep connection with the person and find other sources of help because it is mostly this feeling of loneliness and being completely alone in facing difficulties that we notice among our callers.”

I was going to ask if you have any tips for our listeners on how to proceed if they have older family members who have expressed these thoughts. From what you are saying it sounds mainly like they should simply make sure to talk to them, right?

“Yes. For me, the most important thing is not to be afraid of talking about topics such as suicidal talks.

“There are a number of myths surrounding suicide. One of them is that, if we mention the word suicide in a conversation with someone, we may somehow persuade them or impose that act on the other person. However, the opposite is true.

“The person who is affected by such significant inner suffering, such loneliness, helplessness and the lack of ability to get through difficult times that is leading them to think about suicide, seeks support and acceptance. The person who is in contact with someone who is not afraid of suicidal thoughts often feels relieved. They feel like they finally found someone who can understand them. This is the most important thing – to transfer help to that person.”

Your helpline, which is funded by the Elpida Foundation, is itself launching a campaign to combat this phenomenon of increased suicide-themed calls from seniors. It carries the James Bond themed name “Die Another Day” (Dnes Neumírej). Could you tell me about it?

“Yes, it is rather James Bond-like because our helpline is a bit like that too. It was founded in 2002 as a helpline that should serve as a source of support in a way how James Bond would be to every senior in our country.

“The number of the helpline is 800 200 007. The last two zeroes indicate that there always need to be two people to talk, to solve something.

Photo illustrative: Gerd Altmann,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“The campaign’s most important target is to start to talk about this topic because seniors are the most endangered group when it comes to suicide in society.”

Indeed, I read that suicide attempts among seniors are the most likely to succeed. I am guessing that this may be down to their old age and therefore generally worse health?

“You are definitely right about these two main reasons. Their health condition and old age may lead to a special sort of weakness, or fragility of the organism.

“However, there are also other reasons. One of them is that the most endangered group are older men who usually use more lethal methods in their suicide attempts.

“The other very important factor is that many seniors live alone and therefore do not get the necessary help when they need it. Usually they suffer from inner suicidal thoughts for a long time and lose many of their psychological abilities as well as their strength to withstand them.”

Are there any other interesting phenomena or topics that your team has noticed when it comes to phone calls from seniors to your helpline in the recent past?

“The most frequent topics are family relationships. Namely, how to get along with their loved ones. How to understand each other. How to feel connected and not like a burden.

Photo illustrative: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

“We are not just a helpline for seniors, but we also provide support for informal carers. A big topic for us is therefore how to provide informal care for our loved ones who are in old age in a harmonic way. That means a way in which one doesn’t feel that they are burdened down with something and that they can act as carers with dignity and fairness.

“Actually, the most recent topic for us, which we find relieving, is that many callers are talking about everyday issues again. After the war in Ukraine and the economic crisis it seems like, bit by bit, we are returning to normal, so I hope that seniors will have the time to relax and enjoy their summer.”