Suicide more than just a mental health issue

Societal stereotypes that demand men be tough and able to handle all challenges could be one of the barriers preventing male teenagers from seeking help.
Societal stereotypes that demand men be tough and able to handle all challenges could be one of the barriers preventing male teenagers from seeking help.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

The increase in the number of suicides last year should concern us all (Record 19 teenage boys committed suicide last year, July 30).

The recent decriminalisation of suicide is a positive step in the right direction. It begins the normalisation of a dialogue for an act often perceived as abnormal and deviant.

We also need to recognise that suicide is more than a mental health issue.

In order to better understand the suicide problem in Singapore, we need to move beyond the framework as laid out by medicine and mental health and recognise that the act of taking one's life is merely a symptom and manifestation of a society that is not at all at ease with itself.

The perpetrator of this act often feels left behind by progress and the inequalities prevalent within the larger Singaporean society. It is a social problem as much as it is a mental health problem.

Suicide is not a problem that should rest only within the purview of medical practitioners and mental health professionals.

We need open and public conversations about suicide in our schools, families and workplaces. We need to dedicate more resources for public education outreaches on the impact of suicide on the well-being of our families, communities and the nation. We need to ask for help and ask to help.

It is important for organisations such as the Samaritans of Singapore, the Association of Funeral Directors, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development to work out a holistic approach to this social issue that is often left unspoken.

This can take the form of public education campaigns in the media as well as including the topic of suicide in our education curriculum.

Chen Jiaxi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2019, with the headline 'Suicide more than just a mental health issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe