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May 2021

SOS and Temasek Foundation help youths navigate suicide with #chatsafe guidelines

Suicide prevention agency, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), with support from Temasek Foundation, is making evidence-informed #chatsafe guidelines more accessible for young Singaporeans. Developed in Australia and adapted to include local cultural context, the #chatsafe guidelines are aimed at helping youths engage in safe and constructive online conversations with their loved ones and friends, who are at risk of suicide.

Since the circuit breaker in April 2020, SOS has attended to 30 per cent more calls for help in its 24-hour Hotline and observed that 70 per cent of its younger clientele are first-time users of its text messaging service. As a result, suicide prevention has become a national priority. To combat this deterioration in mental health and in support of #chatsafe guidelines, SOS and Temasek Foundation have launched ‘#PauseBeforeYouPost’, a campaign to reframe mindsets and empower people to reach out to those in distress. The three-month-long campaign equips youths with the #chatsafeguidelines, to think about their intention and how best to communicate before they post, as well as to improve their awareness of the appropriate language to use.

To further instill the main messages from the #chatsafe guidelines, Temasek Foundation has committed $250,000 to develop a set of #chatsafe training curriculum. This curriculum will be used online and/or in-person training workshops in the last quarter of this year. It seeks to equip youths and their carers with the relevant skills and knowledge to engage positively with suicide-related online content as well as manage one’s own mental health, while reaching out and supporting those in distress around them. It will also feature case studies and discussions on the role of language when engaging with someone who may be thinking about suicide.

The #chatsafe programme is expected to train up to 300 youths aged 35 and below and reach approximately 75,000 more youths through the social media campaign.

With suicide in Singapore being the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29, Head of Core Services at SOS, Charlene Heng reveals that: “Clients reach out to us for emotional support due to the perceived lack of support from family and friends. This may stem from a past negative experience when they reached out for help but had their feelings dismissed. The reality is that not everyone is aware that the words and language we use are as powerful as taking the right action. Language reflects our attitudes and influences the attitudes of others.”

Mr Richard Magnus, Deputy Chairman of Temasek Foundation, added, “Suicides are preventable. By equipping young people with skills and awareness to conduct safe conversations about suicide and mental health on social media, we hope to create a social resilience net for youths, by youths.”

Developed and first introduced by Orygen in Australia, #chatsafe guidelines have been adapted with localised content to suit its use in Singapore. It seeks to facilitate safe and constructive conversations around suicide, in response to the observation that many online discussions still lack understanding and empathy, often with serious unintended repercussions. Associate Professor Jo Robinson, Head, Suicide Prevention at Orygen shared, “We know that social media is an important platform for young people to talk about their suicidal thoughts and feelings, to get help, and to help each other. However, we also recognise that there is the potential for some kinds of suicide-related content to be distressing or even harmful to others. We are glad to be able to partner with SOS and bring the guidelines to Singapore, helping young people talk safely about their own experiences with suicide and to help them help each other.”

Expressing the need to address mental health, Chief Executive Officer at the Institute of Mental Health, Professor Daniel Fung explains: “Suicidal feelings can be caused by unexpected and uncontrollable stress. It is important for the community in Singapore to create a safe haven for individuals in crisis to get help and support in our busy metropolis.”

As part of the ‘#PauseBeforeYouPost’ campaign, SOS has also created an online video and Instagram stickers packaged with #chatsafe guidelines that encourage people to pause and reflect on their choice of words before posting. Chief Executive of SOS, Mr Gasper Tan, offered his perspective: “Encouraging a ‘pause’ to think before you speak is the first step in learning how to discuss suicide safely and reminds people to reflect about the consequences of their words before acting. It is even more pertinent now especially as we live in a hyper-connected world where speed and efficiency are of the essence, and we often find ourselves rushing to respond or comment to posts.”

“While suicide is a complex and multifaceted issue, it shouldn’t be neglected and overlooked. Everyone has a proactive part to play in suicide prevention. We hope that #chatsafe can be part of the solution and form an important part of upstream education on suicide situations, empowering youths to create positive behaviours and mindset change when talking about suicide online,” Mr Tan added.

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