Forum: Singapore should also guard against a social recession amid pandemic

Much of the discussion on Covid-19 has rightly focused on the immediate healthcare needs of Singaporeans and the economic recession unleashed

on businesses, households and individuals.

Singapore must also guard against not only an economic recession, but also a social recession. A social recession, marked by loneliness and isolation, can be viewed as a fraying of social bonds that will further unravel the longer we go without human interaction.

Thus, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement that Singapore will transit into phase three of its reopening is welcome news indeed (S'pore to begin phase 3 on Dec 28, Dec 15). This is the first step in a long and arduous journey to lift Singapore out of economic recession and hopefully prevent a social recession here.

As Singapore recovers from an economic recession, it must guard against loneliness in its communities. It was reported in October that more people in Singapore have been seeking help for mental health issues amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with a spike in calls to suicide helplines (More seek help for mental health issues amid pandemic, Oct 10).

As Singapore's population ages, more seniors are living alone, whether by choice or otherwise.

Some may still be living with their families, yet feel lonely. We need to guard against a future public health issue: a loneliness epidemic in Singapore.

Loneliness is not a single emotion. It is a complex mix of many different emotional states such as anger, fear, grief, insecurity and uncertainty.

There is a trend towards one-person households. In 2000, they made up 8.2 per cent of resident households in Singapore. That proportion is now 15 per cent, or 208,000 households.

If we are not careful, many Singaporeans would experience social death - where they are treated as non-existent - before their physical death, often in isolation.

The past year should be a wake-up call for Singapore on many levels, in terms of how we think about our society and its structural inequities; how we examine our support networks, how we think about living and what constitutes a good death; how we grieve; and how to strengthen our palliative care support in the midst of an economic and social recession.

As Singapore reinforces its safe management regime in its fight against the virus, we must also reinforce our nation's social solidarity and networks and not allow social distance to be the default practice in our relationships with one another.

Chen Jiaxi

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