452 suicides reported last year, highest since 2012

Deaths among elderly at 29-year peak amid social isolation, pandemic stress: Samaritans

One expert said that seniors who are used to attending social activities outside on a regular basis would likely feel socially isolated during the pandemic, amid the safety measures.
One expert said that seniors who are used to attending social activities outside on a regular basis would likely feel socially isolated during the pandemic, amid the safety measures.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

A total of 452 suicides were reported in Singapore last year, the highest figure since 2012.

In a statement yesterday, non-profit suicide-prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore 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.

Samaritans 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."

Yet, while there were more suicide deaths among the elderly last year compared with in 2019, the Samaritans said its 24-hour hotline received fewer calls from them.

In its 2020 financial year from April last year to March this year, 4,455 calls were made by the elderly, compared with 4,816 in the 2019 financial year.

The Samaritans 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.

Adjunct Associate Professor Lee Cheng, the Institute of Mental Health's clinical director in the Office of Population Health, said elderly people 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.

  • 154

    Number of suicides involving those aged 60 and above last year, the highest in this age group since 1991.

  • 26%

    Increase in suicides among elderly people last year from 2019.

  • GET HELP

    National Care Hotline 1800-202-6868 (Daily, 8am to midnight)

    Institute of Mental Health 6389-2222 (24 hours)

    Singapore Association for Mental Health 1800-283-7019 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

    TOUCHline 1800-377-2252 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

    Care Corner (Mandarin hotline) 1800-3535-800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)

Said Mr Tan: "Since the pandemic, many in-person activities and initiatives for the elderly have moved (into digital formats). 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.

Associate Professor Helen Ko from the Singapore University of Social Sciences said it is 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 can call the Samaritans on its new four-digit hotline at 1-767. The Samaritans 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2021, with the headline '452 suicides reported last year, highest since 2012'. Subscribe