PARLIAMENT

National suicide prevention strategy necessary, says NMP

Following reports of deaths at Bedok Reservoir in 2011, national water agency PUB improved the lighting in the area and installed signs displaying the contact details for suicide-prevention group Samaritans of Singapore.
Following reports of deaths at Bedok Reservoir in 2011, national water agency PUB improved the lighting in the area and installed signs displaying the contact details for suicide-prevention group Samaritans of Singapore.ST FILE PHOTO
Following reports of deaths at Bedok Reservoir in 2011, national water agency PUB improved the lighting in the area and installed signs displaying the contact details for suicide-prevention group Samaritans of Singapore.
Nominated MP Anthea Ong.

A Nominated MP has called for the Government to aim for a Singapore with zero suicides by implementing a national suicide prevention strategy.

Such a strategy is important as it indicates a clear commitment to prioritise and tackle suicide, while making resources available for necessary interventions, Ms Anthea Ong said in Parliament yesterday.

While some may argue that the suicide numbers here are not high by international standards, Singapore is not doing enough, said Ms Ong, noting that the number of deaths by suicide has remained relatively unchanged from 9.5 suicides per 100,000 residents in the 1980s, to 8.3 suicides per 100,000 residents today.

A reason for this could be the "disappointing fact" that Singapore does not have a national suicide prevention strategy, she said.

Ms Ong said there are various community support groups such as Samaritans of Singapore, PleaseStay, and Caring for Life, which are key in society's suicide prevention efforts.

"However, without a national strategy for these efforts to align to, we risk having a fragmented and sub-optimal approach to supporting survivors and bereaved families," she said.

She said she was "deeply alarmed" that public hospitals do not track attempted suicides. And with the decriminalisation of suicide, it is no longer necessary to keep track of the number of suicide attempts.

However, Singapore has a limited ability in developing informed strategies without such data surveillance, said Ms Ong, who called for a national strategy to coordinate data across government agencies and community partners.

To recognise the warning signs of suicide, schools, workplaces and communities need to put in place more public education programmes on suicide prevention, she said.

"When it comes to loss of lives, human lives, nothing short of zero has ever been good enough for us."

In response, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said the Government will continue to strengthen suicide prevention strategies, as guided by the National Mental Health Blueprint and Community Mental Health Masterplan.

NOTHING SHORT OF ZERO

... without a national strategy for these efforts to align to, we risk having a fragmented and sub-optimal approach to supporting survivors and bereaved families. When it comes to loss of lives, human lives, nothing short of zero has ever been good enough for us.

NOMINATED MP ANTHEA ONG, on the need for a national suicide prevention strategy.

Singapore has a multi-pronged approach in place which involves various ministries and agencies, said Dr Khor. This approach looks at preventing suicide by building mental resilience, identifying and encouraging people to seek help, supporting at-risk groups, and providing crisis support, she said.

She said the Government will continue to track reports of suicides, and public hospitals are working on tracking attempted suicide cases that they attend to.

Ministries will continue to shore up their support, through efforts such as revising the Character and Citizenship Education curriculum in schools to feature mental health education, and setting up a new mental health support service for at-risk youth, said Dr Khor.

 
 
 
 

"Beyond the Government's resources and support, as well as the many community programmes and efforts, I urge my fellow Singaporeans to stand together, look out for each other, develop strong empathy and reach out your hand to others to uplift them," she said.

"Only together, can we ensure each other's mental well-being, especially in such unprecedented times."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline 'National suicide prevention strategy necessary, says NMP'. Print Edition | Subscribe