Record 19 teenage boys committed suicide last year

Total number of suicides also up last year, with 397 reported - up from 361 in 2017

The number of teenage boys taking their own lives reached a record high last year.

Nineteen boys aged 10 to 19 committed suicide last year, the highest since records began in 1991.

In 2017, there were seven suicides by teenage boys.

The total number of suicides also rose last year, with 397 reported - up from 361 in 2017, but fewer than the 429 in 2016.

Yesterday, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) gave a breakdown of the annual statistics, which had been released earlier by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

The number of people taking their own lives rose across all age groups last year, except for the elderly - those aged 60 and over.

There were 8.36 suicides per 100,000 Singapore residents last year, up from 7.74 in 2017.

The prevalence of suicide among young people and males is a "significant societal concern", the SOS said, adding that it remains the leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 29. Last year, 94 young people chose to end their own lives.

  • HELPLINES

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

    Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

    Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222

    Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

    Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

    Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

For every 10 young people who died from external causes, about six were a result of suicide.

Ms Wong Lai Chun, SOS senior assistant director, said: "Suicide remains the leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 29."

Last year, three girls aged 10 to 19 took their own lives, down from five the previous year.

"When teens have yet to develop adequate coping mechanisms and there is a lack of awareness of the available resources, the combination of different stressors may lead youths to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope," said Ms Wong.

She warned that social media is a double-edged sword: "Whilst personal accounts of resilience are readily available, contents that reinforce suicidal and self-harm behaviours are accessible too.

"Youths today seem to have greater awareness of the moments when they feel alone and helpless.

"Even so, it is disconcerting to know that many of our young feel unsupported through their darkest periods and see suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles."

Among those who contacted SOS and revealed their age and gender, male teenagers made up only 30 per cent of SOS helpline calls and about 27 per cent of its e-mail befriending services.

More than 30,000 calls were made to the SOS helpline last year and over 2,500 e-mails were received.

Societal stereotypes that demand men be tough could be one of the barriers preventing male teenagers from seeking help. For every 10 suicides last year, seven were by males.

Said Ms Wong: "Men are stereotypically expected to be tough, stoic, and financially stable. The slightest hint of vulnerability can be seen as an imperfection. This has to change. Men and women alike need to know that it is okay to be less than perfect and we need to educate the public to understand that a supportive and encouraging environment is far more beneficial than a judgmental one."

Fei Yue Community Services said a rise in teenage suicides is a concern, with more young people seeking help on its youth counselling site eC2.sg over the years.

"It is important to have a whole-of-society effort to help those who are entertaining suicidal thoughts. Many times, victims do not see the light in their situations.

"Fei Yue, in our wide gamut of services, works closely with the communities and families, to bring about support and help to those who may feel isolated and hopeless."

A secondary school teacher at an all-boys school suggested two ways to tackle the issue. "On one hand, there is a need to identify and address instances of toxic masculinity in schools such as bullying or unhealthy and disruptive class cultures," said the teacher, who did not want to be named. "On the other hand, parents and teachers have to work together to identify and address early signs of distress in the child, such as a change in behaviour or attitude, before it spirals into feelings of helplessness."

• Additional reporting by Goh Yan Han

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2019, with the headline 'Record 19 teenage boys committed suicide last year'. Print Edition | Subscribe