Suicide attempts on the rise

Officers (above) from the Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), rappelling from the rooftop of Block 387 at Tampines Street 32 to rescue an Indonesian maid seated on the ledge and slumped against the wall of the 12th and highest storey of the block.

She is only 18 years old.

But between August 2011 and May this year, Mandy (not her real name) tried to end her life 10 times.

Eventually, the teenager was arrested and later charged in court with 10 counts of attempting suicide.

Mandy pleaded guilty to three charges and was given a year's probation last month.

District Judge Shaifuddin Saruwan gave her the sentence on the condition that she continues to seek treatment at the Institute of Mental Health and comply with all directions given by the psychiatrist.

It is, however, rare in Singapore for someone to be charged in court with attempted suicide.

Lawyer Shashi Nathan had said: "The decision to prosecute depends on a host of factors such the physiological make-up of the person, the personal background, the family situation, whether there were aggravating or extenuating circumstances that caused him or her to behave that way.

"Jailing the person may not help, but treatment would."

The police also said that whether the defendant is eventually prosecuted is dependent on investigative findings, and this is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

While it is rare for people to be charged in court with attempted suicide, an increasing number of people have been arrested for committing the offence.

Last year, 992 people were arrested for attempting suicide. It's also the highest figure for the last five years.

And rescuers have been busy.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force said that between 2007 and 2011, its officers were activated to an annual average of 335 rescue from height incidents.

More are also turning to agencies like Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) for help.

Last year, it received 44,053 calls, compared to 43,404 in 2008.

In line with this, SOS conducted 439 counselling sessions last year while 139 sessions were held in 2008.

Counsellors The New Paper spoke to said they are concerned about the increase in the number of suicide attempts.

They stressed that help is available for those who are suicidal.

So what could be the reasons behind this increase in the number of suicide attempts?

A spokesman for SOS, which provides emotional support and helps prevent suicides, said: "Suicide is rarely due to a single reason.

"Usually, a series of interrelated events and psychological, interpersonal and/or situational factors come into play."

He added that callers to the SOS hotline have talked about issues including relationship, social, psychological, material, physical and sexual matters.

Mr David Kan of the Family Life Centre said this increase in the number of arrests could be due to a rise in the demands of being successful and competitive in life.

Mr Kan, executive director and senior counsellor at the centre, added: "Those who attempt suicide could have set unrealistic standards for themselves to keep up with the rat race."

He added that they could also find it increasingly difficult to keep up with their professional and financial demands in today's increasingly fast-paced world.

Counsellor Bryan Choong agreed.

He said: "The pace of life is faster nowadays and life has become more demanding. Some may be overwhelmed by this need to keep up."

Mr Choong, centre manager of Oogachaga, a counselling agency which mainly deals with gay and lesbian issues, added that like SOS, the number of calls his agency receives from suicidal people has also gone up in recent years.

This means more people are now turning to experts for help.

How to help

On top of contacting agencies like SOS for advice, psychologists TNP spoke to said that one of the best things to do when dealing with a chronically suicidal family member is to listen.

Singapore Children's Society's youth services director, Dr Carol Balhetchet, said: "Ask one question and wait for the information to come. It may not come immediately, so be patient."

Agreeing, psychologist Daniel Koh of private practice Insights Mind Centre said: "A lot of times, the family doesn't understand the person and they put expectations on the victim. Let it go. Instead, listen. You don't have to talk. Just be there for them."

SOS added that those who are feeling suicidal can approach someone they trust.

They can also seek professional help from health and mental health providers as talking about their thoughts, feelings and problems can help.

Its spokesman said: "Make a list of resources, including family and friends' contact number and emergency numbers and numbers of crisis hotlines. Keep it handy and call someone whenever thoughts of suicide come again or you feel like you want to act on the impulse.

"They can get involved in life by finding new hobbies and activities."

Anyone found guilty of attempting suicide can be jailed up to a year and fined.


Number of people arrested for attempting suicide:

2011: 992

2010: 966

2009: 842

2008: 821

2007: 706

Source: the Singapore Police Force

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