SOS to offer text-for-advice messaging service in outreach to youth

Samaritans of Singapore said it is launching a pilot phone messaging service so that youth in distress will be able to receive advice via text from trained staff. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Youth in distress can soon text for advice on a free phone messaging service by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) that is slated to start at the end of the year.

The pilot service, which has a target of at least 200 users a month, will operate during office hours for a six-month trial period. Those seeking help and trained full-time SOS staff will be able to text back and forth on the service.

It is part of the centre's efforts to reach out to at-risk youth.

Another initiative, to be rolled out next month, is a new training programme on empathetic listening skills. Participants will learn how to listen to people and respond to them.

SOS hopes to reach out to parents, caregivers, as well as human resources and management personnel. The programme complements its three existing training workshops tailored for professionals in the social service sector.

SOS is Singapore's only crisis intervention and suicide prevention centre.

With the new initiatives, it hopes to raise awareness of suicide prevention and build an accurate perception of suicide in Singapore. Youth suicide prevention, in particular, has been in the spotlight after the number of teen suicides hit a 15-year high of 27 in 2015.

In 2016, SOS' e-mail befriending service saw 71 per cent of incoming e-mails from people under the age of 30.

To appeal to the young, SOS is rebranding itself with a new logo and a revamped website, unveiled on Tuesday (Feb 6). Officiating the launch were Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Mr Mah Bow Tan, adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The new blue and orange logo consists of the abbreviation "SOS", with the letter "O" stylised as a flower, and the words "Samaritans of Singapore". This is the second time SOS has changed its logo since its inception in 1969.

Its website was also designed to look attractive to young people. The portal has a blog section where SOS will publish shareable posts on a regular basis.

"There is no point having a website (that) nobody goes into," said SOS executive director Christine Wong.

Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong, a patron of SOS, said: "Through this rebranding exercise, I hope that the SOS will be able to enhance its outreach, and remain relevant and accessible to those who need help."

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