Suicidal drownings a growing concern

Visitors at the Bedok Reservoir Park.
Visitors at the Bedok Reservoir Park. ST PHOTO: FILE

According to the Registry of Births and Deaths, there were a total of 10 deaths due to accidental drowning last year.

We also understand that there were 17 deaths due to suicidal drowning last year.

Based on our records, the 17 suicidal drowning deaths last year make up the second-highest number of suicidal drowning deaths since 1965.

More importantly, it is also the first time that deaths by suicidal drowning have exceeded deaths by accidental drowning in Singapore.

It may be too early to say that this is the start of a trend but it is still cause for concern for us.

The reason is that the real problem here is not drowning but suicide.

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  • SOS: 1800-221-4444 (24-hour)
    •Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
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    •Aware: 1800-774-5935

This might not be that surprising, since suicide is reportedly among the top causes of death in Singapore ("Heart attack, suicide among top killers here"; Dec 19, 2014).

While the number of suicides appears to be coming down, it has been reported that more people have been arrested for attempting suicide last year as compared with 2013 ("More arrested for attempting suicide"; July 18).

Studies have found that the majority of people who fail in a first suicide attempt by drowning do not go on later to successfully commit suicide.

A 2007 study from Ireland also indicates that people attempting suicidal drowning frequently will not resist being rescued.

While a rescue by lifesavers or lifeguards is one of the ways a suicidal drowning may be prevented, it may not happen very often.

This is because a person attempting suicide may choose to drown in a body of water in an isolated location or at a time when no one else is around.

In any case, our organisation will look into developing greater expertise in the rescue of people involved in suicidal drowning, as well as other preventive measures.

However, since the main problem is suicide rather than drowning, the early detection of people with suicidal tendencies and their prompt treatment is likely to be a better strategy to address the matter.

This requires a major effort that we hope will be taken by everyone concerned.

Richard Tan Ming Kirk
President
Singapore Life Saving Society

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Suicidal drownings a growing concern'. Print Edition | Subscribe