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July 2015

Male Suicide Increased While Female Suicide Decreased

A total of 415 people died by suicide in Singapore in 2014, of whom 70% were males. Suicide among males increased by 29% from 227 in 2004 to 292 in 2014, while female suicide decreased by 20% from 154 in 2004 to 123 in 2014. This means that for every 2 females who died by suicide, there were about five male suicides in 2014, up from 3 in 2004. The ratio is growing even more significantly in the age group 60-69, which saw the biggest difference between males and females in 2014. For every 2 female suicides, there were 8 male suicides in 2014, up from 3 in 2004.

The number of suicides among males in this age group increased by 117%, from 24 in 2004 to 52 in 2014. Female suicide decreased by 19% from 16 in 2004 to 13 in 2014.

Ms Christine Wong, Executive Director of suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) noted that the difference in suicidal behaviour among males and females may be due to differences in coping skills and help-seeking behaviour. “Males tend to compare themselves to a masculine standard role which emphasizes greater levels of strength, independence, and risk-taking behaviour. They feel the continuous pressure to solve issues faced on their own and suppress feelings of distress. Help-seeking is often associated to loss of status, damage of identity, dependence, loss of control and autonomy, and incompetence, all of which are in opposition to the male standard role. Reinforcement of the gender role thus often prevents males from expressing emotional issues or seeking help when faced with a crisis.”

Females on the other hand are more likely to communicate their distress with friends and family and seek professional help when needed. They are also becoming more aware of the avenues to seek help when faced with a crisis. The majority of people who used SOS professional services were females. 59% of clients who went through specialist counselling service at SOS and 68% of clients who wrote to for emotional support were females. Among family and friends who have lost someone to suicide, 54% who received support through the SOS LOSS programme were females. There were also more females (67%) who attended Healing Bridge, a support group at SOS for survivors of suicide to express their struggles and receive support from each other.

Commenting on the high ratio in the 60-69 age group, Ms Wong explained that the elderly tend to adhere more strongly to the traditional gender roles. As the male stereotype encourages self-reliance and self-control, elderly males may fear stigma and embarrassment should they approach others for help. Suicidal ideation has many causes. Most often, they are the result of feeling overwhelmed by life situations and thus experiencing a sort of tunnel vision and believing suicide is the only way out. Some of the common issues faced by males in this age group include illness and the fear of prolonged illness, social isolation, death of spouse or family member, and major life changes due to retirement. Some may fear they would become dependent on, or a burden to, their children.

Ms Wong further noted that common problems presented by males and females of all ages who contacted SOS differed slightly. While both sexes struggled with loneliness, mental health issues, and family relationship issues, males also spoke of their difficulties and anxieties in managing crisis triggers. Many male clients faced financial and debt issues or talked about unemployment. Problems shared by females mainly involved challenges on the home front.

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