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December 2019

Opening Address by SOS Patron, Mr Lawrence Wong, at SOS 50th Anniversary Charity Gala Dinner

I am very happy to join you tonight for the Samaritans of Singapore’s (SOS) 50th Anniversary Charity Gala Dinner.

Let me start by thanking Mdm President for your strong support of SOS – you had helped to launch the revamped SOS logo last year, and we are grateful that you’ve taken the time to join us this evening for our charity dinner. I’m also very good to see Mr Mah Bow Tan, the former Patron of SOS here with us tonight. He has been a long-standing supporter of SOS for many years, and he was the one who asked me to take over as Patron in 2011, and I’m glad that he and the Board of SOS then gave me this chance to serve such a worthy cause.

Of course, a big thank you to all of you for your unwavering support for the important work that SOS does in our community. It is because of you that SOS has been able to sustain and grow over the past 50 years.

SOS’s work is rarely seen in the public spotlight. But what the SOS does to support the vulnerable is invaluable. Over the years, SOS has helped to save countless lives. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the SOS team works tirelessly to lend a listening ear to everyone in distress and to provide emotional support for individuals who are on the brink of suicide. So let me take this opportunity to thank all the staff and volunteers of SOS (past and present). All of you are truly Samaritans of Singapore, and we owe you a big debt of gratitude for the lives that you have saved.

The work of SOS has become more important today because suicide has become a very real and serious global health problem. Suicide itself is a complex phenomenon and many factors are involved – it could be due to human experiences of isolation, loss and unmet expectations, even perhaps substance use disorders; there are a whole range of issues that could lead to one taking one’s life. What is especially worrying is that we are seeing increasing rates of depression and suicides amongst young people – this is happening worldwide; suicide is already the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.

We are not immune to these global trends in Singapore. We’ve seen a rise in the number of suicides, and SOS itself has received more calls and emails from people seeking emotional support. When you speak to youths in Singapore, mental health and well-being is something often comes up as a topic of concern.

The death of an individual by suicide also greatly affects the people around them – the family members, friends, colleagues and the community. People who have lost someone they care about deeply may struggle to understand why it happened, and may themselves be at increased risk of suicidal thoughts. Without help and support, it becomes a vicious cycle.

Someone shared with me a story of someone who had lost her best friend to suicide.

– Haunted by the “what-ifs”, the intense guilt and shame in failing to “save” her friend, she started experiencing nightmares.
– The stress of school, her personal life also caused further emotional strain.
– The pain was so unbearable that she too considered taking her own life.
– Fortunately, with the support of her mother, she sought help from SOS to cope with her grief.
– This happened almost 10 years ago. She is much better now, knowing that there is SOS as a safe haven, and her family is there to provide support

This is one example, but it shows that suicide is an issue that we cannot take lightly. To effectively prevent suicides, we must all step forward and take personal responsibility.

The Government will do its part – we will continue to step up efforts to tackle the issue of mental health and suicide prevention especially amongst young people. We will integrate this working across ministries to ensure better coordination, and better support systems across the board.

But as I am sure all of you can appreciate, this work cannot be done by government alone. We need an “all hands on deck”, with employers, family members, and the community all chipping in to provide people in distress with access to help. We need to create open and safe environments for individuals to talk about their emotional pain, and we must also look out for and catch potential signs of distress amongst our colleagues, friends, or family members. There is still a social stigma attached to mental illness and suicide, and this remains one of the biggest barriers to suicide prevention.

SOS will continue to be a key part of this broader eco-system. Over the past 50 years, SOS has been and remains the only suicide prevention centre in Singapore. Today SOS receives thousands of calls and emails every year from individuals in distress, and we remain committed to our mission of providing a lifeline to anyone in crisis.

With your generous support tonight, SOS will be able to do more of its good work in suicide prevention, and also extend its outreach with other partners. Because we are fundraising in this Bicentennial Year, your donations to SOS, which is an IPC, will be matched dollar together to do our part in building a better society. With our combined efforts, I am hopeful that we can make a difference and reduce the incidence of suicide in Singapore.

Thank you once again for your contributions to the SOS, and I wish everyone an enjoyable evening.

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