Parliament: Nominated MP Anthea Ong calls for national suicide prevention strategy

The number of suicide deaths in Singapore has remained relatively unchanged from 9.5 suicides per 100,000 residents in the 1980s to 8.3 suicides per 100,000 residents today. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - 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 on Wednesday (March 25).

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 suicide deaths 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 (SOS), Please Stay, and Caring for Life, who are key in society's suicide prevention effort.

"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 such 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.

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, said Dr Khor.

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 in schools to feature mental health education, and setting up a new mental health support service for at-risk youth, she said.

"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."

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