Qualitative study on reasons for suicide needed

There is a fundamental problem in how we respond to suicide statistics.

Following recent media coverage on the Samaritans of Singapore's annual review of suicide statistics (Number of suicides among seniors hits record high; July 30), general public consensus has been that "more needs to be done" to raise support and increase awareness of elderly suicides.

While such responses are well-intentioned, they fall into a cyclical pattern that risks obscuring the issue of suicide in and of itself.

We are always reacting too late. The suicide statistics recently released were for last year. The demographic shape of suicide statistics would likely look different by now.

What we need is a paradigm shift from a reactive to a pre-emptive approach.

I propose that we first re-examine the source of the suicide statistics, namely, the Coroner's Court and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

Institutionally, suicide statistics are released only after every full year.

Is it perhaps time to review how data regulation might be loosened for the sake of aiding suicide-prevention efforts?

Second, when we focus on only demographic changes of suicide rates, we fail to see the wood for the trees.

Given our small population, variations in the suicide rates of different age groups are likely to appear alarming year on year.

However, this should not stop us from asking the more pertinent question: Why have suicide rates in Singapore remained so consistent at between seven and 13 deaths per 100,000 residents over the past four decades, even with our extensively improved social support services?

Are we prepared to acknowledge suicide as not simply a symptomatic indicator of elderly or youth needs, but a social phenomenon to be intrinsically addressed in and of itself?

What we need is a qualitative and empathetic investigation of what this issue might actually mean to different Singaporeans - not just by categories of age, but also in terms of race, religion, class and gender.

Yap Wei Chiang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2018, with the headline 'Qualitative study on reasons for suicide needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe