Rising concern for those left behind after suicide

The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) are seeing more loved ones of suicide victims attempting suicide or entertaining such thoughts, and are concerned.

For the first time, the suicide prevention agency will be gathering these people and others to mark the International Survivors of Suicide (ISOS) Day on Nov 22. It will screen a documentary on how survivors cope, and hold an interactive session afterwards.

A "survivor of suicide" is anyone affected by a suicide death, including family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, classmates or health-care providers.

Last year, a quarter of suicide cases where SOS stepped in to provide support had at least one survivor who attempted suicide or had such thoughts, compared with one in five cases the year before.

More than half of those who turned to the agency for counselling were survivors who had suicidal tendencies.

"Bereavement following suicide is usually different from bereavement following death by natural causes, both in kind and intensity, and there is much greater trauma," said SOS executive director Christine Wong.

Many suicide survivors face heightened risk of suicide themselves because they experience intense feelings of guilt, abandonment, shame and anger, on top of the usual sadness and loneliness that accompany bereavement.

The American Psychiatric Association ranks the trauma of losing a loved one to suicide as "catastrophic" - on a par with that of a concentration camp experience.

While there is a strong body of evidence for copycat suicides, where one death can set off others following publicity, there has been little research on the impact on the victim's family and friends.

But a study last year published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that even being exposed to a classmate's suicide raises the likelihood of suicide attempts and thoughts.

That is why SOS hopes to raise awareness on the impact of suicide on the people left behind and to combat stigma by addressing the issue in the open and encouraging survivors to seek help.

About 300 to 400 Singaporeans kill themselves annually. With SOS' conservative estimate of six people affected by every suicide death, this means that thousands of people grapple with such losses each year.

SOS runs the only programme and support group here providing information and emotional support to survivors.

One of them is "Julia", whose husband killed himself three years ago due to depression.

Initially, the 30-year-old asked herself repeatedly why he did it and what went through his mind at the time.

Later, the mother of two boys, aged three and five, started blaming herself for the things she had done that might have caused the suicide or the things she could have done to prevent it.

"The emotional turmoil got to me hard one year after his death and mainly it was the sorrow that came with realising that I have lost him forever," said Julia, whose younger son was just a month old then.

She said meeting other survivors was key in helping her heal. "It made me realise that I am not the only one in this tough journey and we can support one other without being misunderstood."

For more information or to sign up for ISOS Day, survivors can e-mail hb@samaritans.org.sg or call the SOS hotline on 1800-221-4444.



Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800


This article was first published on Nov 1, 2014.
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