Alarm over suicide rates among older people in Fiji

Suicide rates have risen by 50% this year in Fiji and the majority of those are people older than 60.

20th October, 2022

Mina Amso

Alarm over suicide rates among older people in Fiji

​Figures show that there were 86 suicides in Fiji from January to September this year, compared to 55​ from the same period last year. ​Photo/PMN News

A Fijian mental health expert is concerned over an “alarming” rise in suicide rates among older people in Fiji.

Suicide rates have risen by 50% this year. Figures show that there were 86 suicides in the period from January to September this year, compared to 55​ in the same period last year. 

Psychotherapist and mental health expert Selina Kuruleca says: ​​​​“It’s alarming but consistent with global trends."

In September alone a person committed suicide every two days in Fiji. 

But Kuruleca says the majority of those were people who were older than 60.​​

“Obviously there has been a big shift, usually it's 15 to 29 [years of age], those are the big figures. 

"But the shift to the 60s and over is a shocker.

“For me as a Fijian, we’re a community that pride itself on the family and the whanau and [being] Christian. So what on earth is going on?”

Kuruleca suspects elder abuse. 

People are being made to feel “pushed out and unwanted”. She says this happens in families where people are no longer contributing to the family’s income and was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic causing a lot of sickness.

She says it comes amid a rise in Fijians experiencing mental health issues and this reflects worldwide trends.

Globally, one in four people are reported to having some sort of mental health concern caused by money, relationships or work. This  compares to one in 10 in pre pandemic days.​

Kuruleca says more people are seeking services at psychiatric hospitals and more are requesting counselling services through the employee assistance program.

Alarm over suicide rates among older people in Fiji

​​Fijian psychotherapist and mental health expert Selina Kuruleca. Photo/Supplied

​Kuruleca runs her own consultancy practice in Fiji, where the majority of people she sees are self-referred.

“They come because they’re having problems coping, symptoms range from depressive-like symptoms to suicidality. Family and relationship dysfunction, I see a lot of those.”

Kuruleca says more needs to be done to address those issues, and change the way Fijians look at mental health altogether.

Stigma and discrimination are a problem in Fiji with a lack of education and understand for people suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. She says people need to stop labelling it as a disability and accept it as a medical condition.

“A lot of times people think if we’re talking about a mental health issue that means you’re off. In Fijian we say ‘lialia’, ‘lequ’, in Hindi we say ’pakala’. That means something is wrong with you.”

Kuruleca says there is not enough research done to get a real understanding of how deep the mental health crisis is, and is calling for funding and partnership from New Zealand to further understand and tackle these issues.

She says the interventions put in place to tackle mental health issues in Fiji are based on global best practice which works for some areas but not for others.

Where to find help and support: 
  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757, or text 4202
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)