Learning to spot, help young kids at suicide risk

Parents and pre-school teachers taking part in a workshop that aims to teach them how to spot suicidal signs in children. Despite the fears and taboos, experts say that talking about the matter with a suicidal person does not increase the likelihood
Parents and pre-school teachers taking part in a workshop that aims to teach them how to spot suicidal signs in children. Despite the fears and taboos, experts say that talking about the matter with a suicidal person does not increase the likelihood of him going through with it.PHOTO: COURTESY OF HO RUO YUN

Workshops aim to help parents, teachers of pre-schoolers deal with difficult topic

Besides helping their pre-schoolers get ready for primary school by mastering their ABCs, parents may increasingly have to tackle an even tougher topic: Suicide.

With more Singaporeans taking their lives at a younger age, some adults have been scribbling down notes on how to help children should they get the blues.

Over the last six months, 200 preschool teachers and 370 parents of pre-schoolers from PAP Community Foundation (PCF) kindergarten and childcare centres were taught at workshops how to spot suicidal signs and broach the topic with their young charges.

Besides learning to pick up signs of an unhappy child such as sudden reticence or loss of interest in activities, they were trained to better understand the new generation of children to connect better with them.

The pre-schoolers themselves, aged between three and six, will soon take part in a pilot workshop on happiness and gratitude. Trainers will guide them to cultivate good habits and "teach them to accept themselves and others", said executive principal Karen Lee of PCF's preschool management division.

The pre-school years are the foundation years in developing social and emotional well-being, she said.

  • 2,680

    Number of calls the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) received from young people aged 10 to 19 on its 24-hour hotline last year.

    1,251

    Number of calls the SOS received from the same age group in 2013.

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"I don't think pre-schoolers are too young when it comes to prevention work. We need to equip the adults to know how to deal with it before certain mindsets, habits and behaviour take root."

In general, though, suicide is still taboo for many. Some parents avoid talking about it as they fear that doing so will plant the word or thought in the minds of their children.

"Actually, medical professionals have established that talking about it with a suicidal person does not increase the likelihood of him committing the act," said chief executive Delane Lim of international youth development firm FutuReady Asia, which conducted the workshops for parents and teachers. The talks help adults deal with early signs of unhappiness in kids, before this develops into suicide risk down the road.

In the last two decades, there has been only one known case of suicide involving children aged five to nine, in 2012. But the number of teens - those aged 10 to 19 - killing themselves hit a 15-year high last year with 27 cases. This was double that in 2014, despite a drop in overall suicides.

Last month, two students from a top junior college killed themselves within 10 days of each other.

Last year, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) received 2,680 calls from young people aged 10 to 19 on its 24-hour hotline, a significant rise from the 1,251 calls from that age group in 2013.

SOS executive director Christine Wong said it is important not just for teens to reach out to peers but for all in the community to do so. She said suicide prevention is not just averting crises, but also about paying attention to people around us.

That is why Mr Lim hopes to get such conversations going, even among parents and pre-schoolers.

FutuReady conducted a survey of 247 parents with pre-schoolers and close to 90 per cent said they do not have the skills to help their children if they have mental distress.

Mr Lim said a few parents, worried about sudden changes in their children's behaviour, have gone to him. "It is good that they are getting themselves ready before their children enter primary school when bullying and depression may set in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Learning to spot, help young kids at suicide risk'. Print Edition | Subscribe