Young people risk death by smartphone

SINGAPORE - More young people are either committing suicide or harbouring suicidal thoughts, and some counsellors have pointed the finger at the smartphone.

Iris Lin, 33, who heads the youth division at Fei Yue Community Services, said that being glued to their mobile phones has caused youth to drift apart from their families.

"The child may say he has no one to turn to. But when you ask the family, they will say that he is always on his smartphone," she said.

Family relationship issues came up as a common problem among suicidal youth, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) found.

In releasing its annual suicide statistics yesterday, the SOS said that almost one in four who committed suicide last year was below the age of 30.

A majority of them were aged between 20 and 29.

Christine Wong, executive director of SOS, observed that there is a general disconnect between these suicidal young people and their families.

The young are more comfortable with online or virtual communication, she noted. She also said that parents may not be able to fully understand the struggles of the youth nowadays.

"Many youth are afraid to talk about their troubles with their family members as they fear their possible reactions," she added.

This leaves young people without the anchor and support of their families, when depression strikes.

Apart from widening the disconnect with families, the smartphone also carries another danger.

Social media, which is accessible on-the-go through a smartphone, also allows these youth to compare their lives with those of their peers, making them feel bad about themselves, said psychiatrist Brian Yeo.

Psychiatrist Adrian Wang said that youth are increasingly pegging their self-worth to their material goods.

"They pressure themselves to show that they are worth something," he said.

The number of young suicide cases has been creeping up.

Last year, about 24 per cent of those who committed suicide were below 30 years old. In 2012, this figure was 22 per cent, and in 2011, 16 per cent.

SOS said that between April last year and May this year, almost half of the 168 people who went for crisis counselling at SOS were aged 30 and below.

Overall, 422 people here died by suicide last year, a 10 per cent decrease from the 467 in 2012.

Issues related to family relationships were among the top three problems identified for suicidal thoughts, along with depression and boy-girl relationship issues.

An e-mail message befriending service by SOS and the SOS hotline - 1800-221-4444 - also reflected the same family relationship issues as causes of distress and suicidal thoughts.

Some warning signs of suicide include dramatic changes in mood, giving away treasured things, saying goodbye, and expressions such as: "Life is too painful for me."

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