Parliament: Whole-of-government approach to preventing elderly suicide, says Tan Chuan-Jin

An elderly person at the Pearl's Hill Care Home.
An elderly person at the Pearl's Hill Care Home.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - A whole-of-government approach is taken to prevent suicides among the elderly, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 10).

This involves working together with community partners to raise awareness on suicide prevention, encouraging elderly who are distressed to seek help, and providing professional support and crisis intervention to those people considered at risk of suicide.

Between 2011 to 2015, an average of 116 people aged 60 and above had committed suicide.

Suicide among this group has been creeping up over the years, from 95 cases in 2010 to 126 cases in 2014.

While "the trends aren't picking up in a big way", said Mr Tan, "every death from suicide is one death too many, we should endeavour to try and prevent it".

Non-constituency MP Dennis Tan has asked about the causes of elderly suicide.

The minister said they were often complex and multi-faceted. "There are social issues, there are relationship issues, family issues, mental health issues and sometimes a combination of various factors that causes individuals to take their own lives," he said.

As such, he added, a concerted effort is needed to address the issue, he said listing three ways the Government is doing so.

First, the Health Promotion Board is teaching seniors social-emotional and self-care skills, and how to seek help if necessary. It is also conducting workshops in workplaces to teach older Singaporeans mental resilience and well-being.

Second, senior activity centres conduct social activities and home visits to reach out to elderly people living in rental flats. There are also befriending programmes where volunteers visit seniors regularly so they are not isolated.

The third effort is in crisis response. Groups like the Samaritans of Singapore and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) operate 24-hour hotlines for those in distress. IMH's counsellors manning the lines can quickly access cases and activate home visits if necessary.

Mr Tan urged people to seek help early "when feeling overwhelmed and emotionally distressed".

He said family members also play an important role in helping to spot signs of distress and making sure their loved ones seek professional help.

"Co-workers, friends and neighbours can also play a similar role in offering assistance and support to those facing life's challenges. Without these steps, even the best support programmes will be rendered ineffective. We must all step forward and play an active part in looking out for our loved ones and fellow Singaporeans," he said.