Parliament: Number of suicide deaths down this year after its decriminalisation

Attempted suicide was decriminalised by the Criminal Law Reform Act in 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There were 166 deaths by suicide from January to September this year, down from 304 during the same period last year, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 4).

He gave these preliminary figures in response to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), who asked how many cases of suicide were recorded and how many cases of attempted suicide the police and Singapore Civil Defence Force had intervened in since it was decriminalised.

Mr Murali also asked how the decriminalisation of attempted suicide has improved the situation for those tempted to take their lives.

Attempted suicide was decriminalised by the Criminal Law Reform Act in 2019, with the amendments coming into effect at the start of this year.

The change in law was met with mixed reactions at the time it was proposed. Some, like suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore, had felt decriminalising attempted suicide would encourage people with suicidal tendencies to seek help as they would no longer fear prosecution.

Others, like Mr Murali, had expressed reservations, saying that keeping suicide a crime would allow police to intervene in suicide attempts by arresting and placing the person in a safe environment, like a jail cell, to stabilise their condition.

On Wednesday (Nov 4), Mr Tan said the police were called to help with about 1,800 cases of attempted suicide or suicidal ideation from January to September this year.

From 2017 to 2019, the police received about 1,200 reports of attempted suicide a year.

However, Mr Tan pointed out that the two figures could not be compared, as the 1,800 cases so far this year includes suicide ideation cases - people who had suicidal thoughts but did not actually act on them.

He said: "The criminal justice system is not the best way to deal with persons who have attempted suicide. Such persons are often under severe distress."

Mr Tan added that the decriminalisation of attempted suicide reduces stigma and encourages suicidal people to seek help early.

"The reasons for suicide are multifaceted and complex. Hence, the Government has been continuing our efforts to prevent suicides, and we will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our approaches to better assist suicidal persons," he said.

Dr Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah (Jalan Besar GRC) asked if mental health services in polyclinics could be made open to walk-ins rather than based on appointments or referrals in order to reduce treatment delay.

In response, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said people with mental health concerns who walk into polyclinics will be given a preliminary assessment by doctors. They will be referred to mental health services if necessary.

Aside from polyclinics, more than 220 general practitioners have also been trained under the Mental Health General Practitioner Partnership Programme to identify, diagnose and manage those with mental health issues in the community.

Dr Janil added that a network of 43 community outreach teams also provides basic emotional and psycho-social support and service linkage for persons with mental health issues across Singapore.

Dr Wan Rizal also asked what the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had done to ensure emotional and mental health wellness in workplaces.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that aside from an advisory on supporting the mental well-being of workers under Covid-19 work arrangements earlier this year, MOM will be releasing a Tripartite Advisory to guide employers on good workplace practices to promote workers' mental well-being later this year.

He also highlighted a number of existing programmes and resources that employers can tap, including the iWorkHealth online self-assessment tool to identify common workplace stressors.

"MOM will continue to work with our partners to educate and gain the support of employers to further promote workers' mental well-being at the workplace," he said.

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