Couple's double suicide underscores struggles for elderly

The double suicide of an elderly couple who plunged to their deaths yesterday is raising concerns about whether enough is being done to support ailing seniors who might consider taking their own lives.

Suicides becoming more common among elderly, mental health experts say

Mental health experts say suicide rates among senior citizens are a growing concern 2:17

The double suicide of an elderly couple who plunged to their deaths in Toronto yesterday is raising concerns about whether enough is being done to support ailing seniors who might consider taking their own lives.

Married couple Marika Ferber and Vladmir Fiser fell 18 storeys from their Etobicoke penthouse apartment. Their bodies were discovered Tuesday morning on the front lawn of the property.

But as disturbing as the scene was, mental-health experts say the suicide rate among the elderly is climbing in Canada.

"It seems to be that in this age group, [suicide] is quite common — more so than in younger age groups," Dr. Robert Madan, the chief of psychiatry at Baycrest said.

The latest data from Statistics Canada, published in 2009, states that men in their late 80s have the highest suicide rate among any age group, with 31 out of every 100,000 people killing themselves.

Feeling 'trapped or helpless'

Those figures are more than double 2009's suicide-rate average of 11.5 per 100,000 people of any age in Canada.

As for why the problem seems more pronounced among the elderly, Madan said debilitating health problems in older age can exacerbate emotional problems.

"If someone feels trapped or helpless, hopeless, or like there's no purpose, especially medical problems," he said, that can contribute to a "much higher suicide rate."

Friends of the couple who took their lives said the pair suffered from health problems.

"Chronic back pain, chronic leg pain," said Laurie Alldred, a neighbour.

'I could see how unhappy they were'

"She was not happy. I was down to their place. I could see how unhappy they were," another neighbour said. "They were sleeping a lot."

Madan stressed that it's important to seek help for seniors, as they're a vulnerable population.

Ferber and Fiser had endured a lot of trauma in their lives, both having lost their spouses before they turned to each other for support. Fiser had escaped from Croatia, but lost much of his family when the Nazis invaded.

Karen Letofsky, with the Toronto Distress Centre, said older generations weren't accustomed to the kind of emotional support services available today.

"That generation has possibly grown up not with mental health supports or frank discussions about mental health," she said.

With a report from the CBC's Aarti Pole

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