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July 2014

Family Relationship Issues Among Most Common Problems Faced by Suicidal Youths

A total of 422 people died by suicide in Singapore in 2013. This represents a 10% decrease from 467 suicides registered in 2012. The national suicide rate went down from 10.27 per 100,000 resident population in 2012 to 9.29 in 2013. In the last ten years, the total number of suicides averaged at 395 while the suicide rate averaged at 9.28.

Suicide among youths aged below 30 accounted for nearly a quarter (24%) of all suicides in 2013. Youth suicide averaged at 20% in the past ten years. Suicide is tragic, and for the youths who died by suicide, it is a disturbing indicator of the level of distress they were experiencing.

Between April 2013 and March 2014, 45% of the 168 people who came for crisis counselling at the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) were aged 30 and below. Issues pertaining to family relationships were among the top three problems presented by this group of clients, along with depression and boy-girl relationship issues. SOS also provided emotional support to a total of 993 people though its email befriending service. Of the 420 people who revealed their age, 80% were aged 30 and below. Over half of the suicidal youths who emailed SOS were distressed by family relationships. These figures were reflected by the SOS hotline where family relationship issues were presented by the suicidal youths as the most common problem leading to intense distress and suicidal thoughts.

Ms Christine Wong, Executive Director of SOS indicated, “Our interaction with these suicidal youths has highlighted a general disconnect between them and their families. There appears to be a lack of effective communication and understanding between family members.” It was observed that there may be various factors contributing to this gap. With changing times, youths have to manage new demands and different expectations. Parents may not be able to fully understand the struggles of the youths nowadays. In a developing economy, it can also be challenging finding unhurried and un-distracted time to nurture important family relationships. In addition, with technological advancement, modes of communications have undergone great changes in the past decade. Ms Christine Wong, Executive Director of SOS noted that youths are generally more comfortable using online or virtual interfaces rather than conversing face-to-face. They also often use a lingo which their parents may not be familiar with.

All these factors may affect the quality of the relationships within the family, and this can in turn create other issues. Very often, when these youths face difficulties coping with life’s challenges, it is hard for them to seek support from their families. Many youths are afraid to talk about their troubles with their family members as they fear their possible reactions. Family support can be very important especially in one’s growing-up years. The lack of it can increase the sense of isolation and helplessness when the youths are experiencing some problems.

Ms Wong commented, “Youth suicides come at a great cost to families and society as youths are in the most productive years of their lives. Greater efforts need to be directed towards identifying youths who are going through a crisis.” SOS has been actively creating awareness among the youths and members of the public of the warning signs of suicide. It is important for them to know that it is OK to seek support and help when in need.

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