10 September marks World Suicide Prevention Day to promote worldwide commitment to suicide prevention. One of the leading causes of death among various age groups, suicide affects millions of people and leaves behind family, friends and loved ones who are forever changed by the grief and trauma of a suicide death.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds in the world. In Singapore, one person dies by suicide everyday on the average. Last year, 361 people died by suicide and many more attempted to take their own lives. More than 44,000 people in distress, feeling suicidal or affected by suicide called the SOS hotline for emotional support and 3,690 emails were sent to our email befriending service to express their thoughts, feelings and problems in confidence.
Singapore’s national suicide rate has decreased over the last 30 years. In 1980, the suicide rate was 11.2 per 100,000 residents. In 1990, it peaked at 13.1 and by 2000 it dropped to 9.5. In 2010, the suicide rate decreased further to 7.85. According to the World Health Organisation, the current global suicide rate is estimated at 10.1.
To mark the World Suicide Prevention Day, SOS organises a Suicide Awareness Week in September every year since 1993. On top of the series of workshops we usually conduct each year, we have also held some special events for the occasion. Most recently in 2008, SOS launched the book ‘Why? When Both My Parents Took Their Lives’ which was written by a suicide survivor. The following year, a photo contest was organised to raise general knowledge about suicide in the community. In 2010, a two-day conference was held in conjuncture with SOS’s 40th Anniversary.
This year, SOS will be running a series of professional skills-based workshops on suicide intervention and postvention skills over the month of September. The response has been overwhelming, and all workshops are now fully-subscribed by participants from government agencies, schools, hospitals, community groups and voluntary welfare organisations. Concerned about a steady rise in suicide among people aged 65 and above, SOS, Singapore Action Group of Elders (SAGE) Counselling Centre and other community partners are collaborating for a public forum titled ‘Ageing with Dignity & Joy –Choose to Live’ on 6 October to raise public awareness about this major preventable cause of premature death among the elderly and its prevention. In 2011, the number of suicide among the population aged 65-74 and 85 and above has doubled from 2010 – from 28 to 52 and from 6 to 14 for the respective age groups. Although the numbers are relatively small, every life lost to suicide is tragic. Moreover, the elderly make up 9.3% of the population but account to 23.0% of all suicides.
With an ageing population, it is important for the public to be aware of the warning signs of suicide and some preventive measures that can be taken to reduce the number of suicide among our elderly. Suicide usually results from a complex series of interrelated events and psychological, social, interpersonal, and physiological factors. Some factors that may increase the risk of suicide among the elderly include the death of loved ones, physical illness or fear of prolonged illness, chronic or uncontrollable pain, perceived poor health, low quality of life, loneliness and social isolation, and major changes in life and social role (e.g. retirement).
Suicide is preventable. Most people who think about suicide do not want to die but do not want to live the life they have. The elderly may feel like they are a burden to the family or may have difficulties adapting to the many changes in life that they face. In most cases, people would give warnings of their suicidal intentions. These can be verbal (e.g., “Take care when I’m gone”), behavioural (e.g., unusual behavioural changes, withdrawing from family and friends), or emotional (e.g., dramatic changes in mood, deep feeling of hopelessness). Friends and relatives can help their loved one by encouraging the elderly to participate in community activities where they can meet other people, to adopt new hobbies and to talk to someone they trust or call SOS at 1800-221 4444 if they are having suicidal thoughts.
This World Suicide Prevention Day, let us remind ourselves and those around us that Suicide Prevention is Everybody’s Business.