Will helpline signs help prevent suicide attempts?

PHOTO: Will helpline signs help prevent suicide attempts?

When the body of a 63-year-old woman was pulled out of Bedok Reservoir on Oct 25, it prompted national water agency PUB to step up patrols amid concerns that these drownings are cases of copycat suicides.

The latest victim, a widow, is the fifth in five months.

Earlier this month, a 29-year-old man jumped into the reservoir in an apparent suicide attempt, but a PUB senior technician and three of his colleagues managed to stop him in time.

A PUB spokesman said its staff conduct routine patrols.

She said there are signs at all the reservoirs to warn the public of deep waters and rapid water flow and to advise them not to swim in the reservoirs.

Life buoys are also placed at strategic locations at the reservoirs.

In light of recent incidents, she said PUB is considering putting up signages with helpline numbers.

Overseas

Such suicide prevention signs are common overseas at places with high incidence of suicides like the Sea of Trees at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, US.

But, would these signs really help?

North East District Mayor Teo Ser Luck believes signs can be the first step in creating awareness so that people know what helpline number to call.

"It reminds them that they don't have to go through with it," he said.

"But a lot depends on the wording of the sign. It should not be in the spirit of 'Don't cycle here, don't walk there'.

"For those who are deeply troubled, if they read something like 'Don't jump here', they will just find somewhere else."

He added that he has been "very concerned" about copycat suicides and that there should be a pro-active approach to reach out to those who may need help.

The North East Community Development Council is looking through cases in its database and working with voluntary welfare organisations on people's mental and emotional well-being.

Mrs Tan Yoke Tin, deputy director for Samaritans of Singapore, which provides a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, is supportive of putting up the signs at thereservoir.

She said: "Yes, maybe one of the tools to help those in distress would be to have signages in different languages, with the suicide prevention messages and to encourage them to seek help.

"It would also be helpful to have the contact details of available helplines on these signages as well."

But Miss Cherie Ho, 30, a corporate communications executive who has lived near the reservoir for 20 years, thinks the signs may not be of much help.

"No one would read them. They should have security guards and cameras or sensors to monitor people going into the water," said Miss Ho, who jogs at the reservoir at least once a week.

Associate Professor Daniel Fung, the vice-chairman of the medical board (clinical) at the Institute of Mental Health, thinks that signs on their own may not be enough to deter people from suicide.

He added: "Members of the public canbe vigilant and sensitive to those whoare experiencing difficult times andencourage them to talk about theirproblems.

"More publicity should be given to the respective counselling helplines to enhance awareness."

HELPLINES

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444

Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019

Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555

Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800

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