Peers play key role in preventing youth suicide

As a mental health professional, I agree that there is no foolproof method of preventing suicide ("'Not reasonable' to expect teens to take crisis calls from peers"; yesterday).

However, there are risk assessment and mitigating factors that can contribute to prevention.

Let me highlight two of them.

Making specific plans or taking concrete steps towards carrying out a contemplated suicide indicates the likelihood that an individual will proceed with the act.

Most young people in crisis would not disclose these plans except to very close peers.

  • HELPLINES

  • Samaritans Of Singapore:
    1800-221-4444

    Singapore Association For Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

    Institute Of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222

    Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

    Silver Ribbon:
    6386-1928

    Tinkle Friend (for primary school-aged children): 1800-274-4788

Parents of victims have often discovered, to their horror, that their beloved child had been sharing these ideas with peers on social media before executing the act.

Most peers unfamiliar with suicide risks would normally do the usual thing of dissuading the friend from doing such a "silly" thing. Clearly, this is reason to consider the second step of suicide prevention - peer support or peer counselling.

The heart of peer support or peer counselling is to provide active listening that conveys empathy, not sympathy.

Anyone who has talked about his problems with someone who can listen with empathy knows what it feels like to be understood.

We can train our young people to acquire active listening skills.

For someone going through a rough patch, an empathetic listener can make the difference between hopelessness and being able to cope with life's challenges.

We should not just rubbish an idea because it does not fit into our preconceived notion of what taking a crisis call is all about.

We need to be educated that suicide prevention, as in raising a child, needs a whole-village approach. And peers play a very critical role in accomplishing this.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'Peers play key role in preventing youth suicide'. Print Edition | Subscribe