Suicides dip from 20-year high to 422

PHOTO: Suicides dip from 20-year high to 422

The overall suicide rate dipped last year, with experts attributing the decline to greater awareness of mental illness and how to get help.

The number of suicides fell to 422 last year from a 20-year high of 467 the year before.

The national suicide rate also fell to 9.29 for every 100,000 resident population last year, from 10.27 in 2012, according to the latest figures from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's Registry of Births and Deaths.

Suicide prevention group Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) said more are also seeking help on behalf of people they know.

In response to queries, SOS revealed that 255 people referred family members and friends to the group from last April to March this year.

This is a marked increase from the same period three years ago, when there were 88 such cases.

Dr Daniel Fung, chairman of the medical board at the Institute of Mental Health, said greater understanding of mental illness has reduced the stigma towards those seeking help for psychological issues. "There are many stories in the media of people dealing with depression or even pathological gambling. People have a greater sympathy for those going through these problems," he explained.

But the number of suicides of those aged between 20 and 29 remained relatively high. There were 83 cases last year, the same as in 2012 - compared with just 46 in 2011.

SOS said these figures were worrying, and noted that young people formed the bulk of those the organisation reached out to last year. Of the 168 people SOS gave crisis counselling to between last April and this March, 45 per cent were aged 30 and below.

SOS executive director Christine Wong said many suicidal young people lack understanding from family members and struggle with speaking face to face to their parents as they are more used to communicating online.

Dr John C.M. Wong, National University Hospital's head of psychological medicine, said studies show suicidal adolescents experience lower parental warmth and higher maternal rejection and neglect as compared with their peers.

Dr Brian Yeo, consultant psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, added that many in their late 20s are burning out due to competition in workplaces. He added that stress, coupled with other factors like binge drinking, can lead to young people making rash decisions.

"Alcohol impairs judgment. Young people are also more likely to do things on impulse," he said. "So they may feel they are angry and so they decide to commit suicide."

The experts said many schools have employed counsellors, and urged troubled youth to approach them for help.

ameltan@sph.com.sg

Helplines

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 Institute of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222 Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

This article was first published on July 31, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.