114 people saved from suicide in past 11 months: Samaritans of Singapore

Sixty-nine per cent of cases where people were about to attempt suicide or attempting suicide were female. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - From April 2022 to February 2023, suicide prevention charity Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) intervened and saved an average of one person every three days from imminent risk of suicide, or a total of 114 people.

Sixty-nine per cent of these cases, where people were about to attempt suicide or attempting suicide, were female. Forty-four per cent were aged 20 to 29, while 38 per cent were aged 10 to 19.

Forty-two per cent of the attempts were by jumping.

The Samaritans shared these and other statistics on Thursday while hosting the media at its centre in Outram.

It shared how the volunteers for its 24-hour hotline and CareText WhatsApp service, as well as a team of 20 crisis support staff, come together to support high-risk cases, many of which happen late at night when most social services are closed.

For clients who may be unable to share their experiences over the phone, hotline volunteers may direct them to CareText. The service was introduced in 2020 to supplement the hotline.

Some 11,107 people used the service in 2022 – a year when calls for help more than doubled to 27,341 from 11,591 in 2020.

The Samaritans also highlighted the need to support the increasing number of at-risk youth here, given that 82 per cent of its clients are aged 29 and below as at September last year.

Time pressure is another challenge. Its team activates police and emergency services if needed to help de-escalate suicide attempts, and all responders have to be able to think on their feet and act quickly.

The organisation has also started a support group for those who previously attempted suicide.

Today, it has close to 400 volunteers who have to undergo six months of training and assessments on responding to distress calls. 

The volunteers range from 19 to over 80 years old, with one volunteer having stayed with the organisation for 45 years.

Staying calm and maintaining trust

Volunteers, who are trained to provide a listening ear and put aside their own beliefs, cannot divulge their identities due to a confidentiality policy. This is so that they can maintain trust with their clients.

One full-time volunteer, who is in her 40s, spoke to The Straits Times on her experiences dealing with suicide calls since she joined the organisation in 2019.

To cope with the emotional intensity of the calls, she debriefs fellow volunteers or staff after particularly difficult calls in order to process her thoughts and feelings.

When faced with aggressive clients, she said she is trained to not take it personally, and to gently divert the call back to them to share their troubles.

“I always remind myself to stay calm,” she said.

“The priority is to keep them safe, encourage them to share about their problems, and de-escalate the risk and keep them calm as well. If I feel like I need more support, I will ask for help from other volunteers,” she added.

The counselling rooms at the centre are also open to volunteers who need help.

Asked why she continues to volunteer despite the emotional toll, she said: “When (my clients) thank me and say they feel better, I feel I did something good today.

“It also gave me a new perspective on my life, and I feel gratitude that I have my family’s support.”

The Samaritans hopes to recruit 100 more volunteers, as well as engage corporate partners.

The organisation, which provides its services free of charge, is funded in part by the National Council of Social Service and the Tote Board on a project basis.

Commitment is once a week, with one overnight shift a month.

It said it hopes to destigmatise suicide-related issues as well as normalise conversations to reduce suicides in Singapore.

“Alongside an increase in the number of conversations surrounding suicide and mental health, there has also been a rise in the number of individuals reaching out for emotional support through our services, especially among youth,” the SOS said.

“We wanted to share our work today and explore further collaborations for suicide prevention.”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.