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July 2019

Total suicides increased 10 per cent, male teenage suicide highest recorded

In 2018, there were a total of 397 reported suicides in Singapore, a 10 per cent increase from the 361 cases the year before. All age groups registered an increase in the number of suicides last year, with the exception of those aged 60 years and above. Deaths caused by suicide rose to 8.36 per 100,000 Singapore residents from 7.74 in 2017.

The prevalence of suicide mortality among youths and males is a significant societal concern.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for youths aged 10 to 29. In 2018, 94 youths chose to end their own lives. For every 10 youths who died from external causes, about 6 were a result of suicide.

In particular, male teenage (aged 10-19) suicide peaked at its highest since 1991 with 19 deaths in 2018, a 170% increase from seven deaths in 2017.

Of those who revealed their age, youths aged 10 to 29 accounted for more than 78% of total clients who wrote in to SOS’ Email Befriending service, a service that offers emotional support for those in distress. In the last fiscal year ending March 2019, SOS observed an increase of more than 56% in its youth clientele writing in.

Ms Wong Lai Chun, Senior Assistant Director of Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) expressed her concern, “Youths today seem to have greater awareness of the moments when they feel alone and helpless. They are more willing to reach out and explore available support avenues like our support services, social media and their peers. Even so, it is disconcerting to know that many of our young feel unsupported through their darkest periods and see suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles”.

However, SOS noted that among those who revealed their age and gender, male teenagers make up 30% of incoming calls and approximately 27% of Email Befriending clients from those aged 10 to 19. SOS opined that societal stereotypes that demand men be tough and are able to handle all challenges thrown at them, could be one of the barriers for male teenagers to seek help.

In 2018, for every 10 suicides, at least 7 are by men. Ms Wong added “We live in a society that stresses the importance of masculine qualities as a measure of success. As a result, we grow impatient toward behaviours that seem to depict weakness”. Ms Wong further elaborated that “Men are stereotypically expected to be tough, stoic, and financially stable. The slightest hint of vulnerability can be seen as an imperfection”. The constant pursuit of material and professional success may implicate the size of one’s social circle. Placing material possessions above friendships and relationships creates distance in friendships and weakens one’s support system over time.

“This has to change. Men and women alike need to know that it is OK to be less than perfect and we need to educate the public to understand that a supportive and encouraging environment is far more beneficial than a judgemental one for our society” said Ms Wong.

SOS has been encouraging life-changing conversations in Singapore. In recent years, it has partnered with student-led initiatives that focus on raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention within schools. SOS trains selected students to identify distress signs, understand how to approach affected individuals and where to refer them for help.

Aimed at removing the stigma of seeking help, SOS’ efforts focus on raising awareness of suicide warning signs and identifying ways the community can support individuals in despair. Suicide prevention begins with fostering a more empathetic and less judgemental community – because every struggle is unique to its own.

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