SINGAPORE - A text-based service for people in distress or contemplating suicide was launched in July under a pilot programme being run by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).
The organisation said on Monday (Aug 3) that the text messaging option is an alternative form of emotional support to its phone hotline and one that people have been calling for.
SOS Care Text, as it is called, is also a response to the increased number of calls and e-mails the organisation fielded during the circuit breaker period earlier this year.
This service comes as suicide numbers among those aged 10 to 29 remain a concern, with 94 cases in 2019 - the same as in 2018 - according to Immigration and Checkpoints Authority data released last week.
There were 400 suicides reported last year, continuing an upward trend after 397 cases in 2018 and 361 in 2017, but still fewer than the 429 in 2016.
SOS noted that suicide remains the leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 29, adding that the number of suicides among the 20 to 29 age cohort remains highest compared with other age groups.
Suicide accounted for one-third of all reported deaths in the 20 to 29 age group, with 71 young people taking their lives last year.
There were 4,124 calls to SOS from this group between April 2019 and March 2020 compared with 3,396 in the same period a year earlier.
SOS said that of people who revealed their age, those between 20 and 29 accounted for about 17 per cent of total calls on the 24-hour hotline and 37 per cent of its e-mail befriending clients.
These individuals often cited issues with romantic relationships and difficulties coping with their mental health, as well as struggles managing challenging situations, as factors contributing to their acute distress, said SOS.
SOS chief executive Gasper Tan said that while the increase in calls is an encouraging sign that young people are recognising the importance of their mental health and the need for early intervention, the high number of suicides in the age group is concerning.
He said: "Much more remains to be done as a community to further understand and address the issues that may prevent our youths from seeking help."
Social worker Asher Low, who runs Limitless, a charity for young people with mental health issues, agreed that the number of youth suicides in 2019 is significant.
He added that the number of teen female suicides is "alarming, as girls in general have always had a lower suicide rate than boys, and to have the numbers almost 'equal' is out of the norm".
Ten females aged 10 to 19 took their own lives last year compared with three in 2018, while 13 boys in the same age group committed suicide last year compared with 19 the year before.
Mr Low said the numbers could provide a picture of the support - or lack of - that young people may be getting from family, peers and other systems such as schools and churches, as well as the amount of pressure and stress they could be facing.
He added that a common factor in youth suicidality that Limitless has seen a lot recently is emotional and psychological pain.
This pain can be caused by abusive parents, or parents who do not know better and think they are being hard on their children for their own good, not knowing that their children have mental health struggles, said Mr Low.
Samaritans Of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association For Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute Of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788
Mr Low also said that many young people may still not be willing to seek help when struggling with a mental health issue, noting that this is not the fault of the person but rather a structural issue that needs to be resolved through policy changes making it easier to do so.
He suggested lowering barriers such as cost, emphasising confidentiality, tailoring more services towards supporting youngsters' mental health and providing more everyday people with the skill sets to effectively support friends and family members.
"While we can't change things such as evolving family structures, lower neighbourly support, or 'kampung spirit', which all contribute towards lowered social support in general for youth, we can change the safety net that we provide such youth who may be struggling with difficult circumstances and mental health issues," said Mr Low.