SINGAPORE - A total of 452 suicides were reported in Singapore last year, the highest figure since 2012.
In a statement on Thursday (July 8), non-profit suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) said this was a 13 per cent increase from 2019's 400 cases.
It added that the increase in suicide deaths was observed across all age groups. In particular, the number of suicide deaths among the elderly - aged 60 and above - hit 154, the highest recorded figure among this age group since 1991 and a 26 per cent increase from 2019.
SOS chief executive Gasper Tan said: "Covid-19 has severely affected the nation's economy, lifestyle and mental health. We are extremely worried about how our elderly are coping during this public health crisis.
"During the pandemic period, the elderly were more likely to face social isolation and financial worries. Difficulty in constantly adapting to changes as well as prolonged feelings of loneliness may be devastating."
While there was an increase in suicide deaths among the elderly in 2020 compared with 2019, SOS said its 24-hour hotline received fewer calls from them.
In its 2020 financial year from April 2020 to March 2021, 4,455 calls were made by the elderly, compared with 4,816 in the 2019 financial year.
SOS added that elderly callers expressed difficulty coping with loneliness and inactivity due to isolation, psychological distress, and impaired social and family relationships - which were compounded by the pandemic.
The Institute of Mental Health's clinical director in the Office of Population Health, Adjunct Associate Professor Lee Cheng, said that the elderly who are living alone may lack support to deal with the pandemic.
"Those who are used to attending social activities outside on a regular basis will also likely feel socially isolated during this period," he added.
Said SOS' Mr Tan: "Since the pandemic, many in-person activities and initiatives for the elderly have moved digitally. Those with limited proficiency with technology may find themselves lost and helpless.
He added that given the uncertainty of how long more the pandemic will last, it is important to build on existing efforts and find new ways to support the mental health of the elderly.
Singapore University of Social Sciences' Associate Professor Helen Ko said it was important to find as many ways as possible to connect with the elderly who are lonely and socially isolated.
"Very often, most elderly persons want to hear a human voice and they long to hear the familiar voice of a loved one," she said.
"For those who are not digitally savvy, please be very patient as they may need more time to pick up digital skills."
From July 26, those who need emotional support may call SOS at its new four-digit hotline at 1-767. SOS said the shortened hotline will help make seeking help more convenient.
The old hotline number, 1800-221-4444, will remain operational even after the four-digit hotline is launched, and both numbers will be toll-free.
Samaritans of Singapore: 1-767 (24 hours)
Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
TOUCHline: 1800 377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner (Mandarin hotline): 1800-3535-800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)