Spike in calls to SOS last year as more in distress amid pandemic

Clients reported more conflicts with loved ones, financial instability

SOS clients reported more conflicts with their romantic partners and family members. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) received 39,492 suicide and crisis-related calls last year.

This was up from 33,387 in 2019 - an increase of 18 per cent - as more people sought help for mental distress amid the pandemic.

Between April and June last year, which coincided with the circuit breaker and phase one of reopening, the agency received 10,671 calls, up from 7,844 in the same period in 2019.

Mr Gasper Tan, chief executive of SOS, said 2020 was a year of uncertainties, and many experienced more anxiety as the pandemic placed a strain on relationships and finances.

He added: "At a time where uncertainty looms over most of us, anxiety and worry may amplify our reactions to day-to-day matters."

SOS clients reported more conflicts with their romantic partners and family members, said Mr Tan.

Financial instability, or the loss of a job, was also a significant stressor as it can be damaging to an individual's self-worth, he added.

Mr Tan said some clients may also find it difficult to cope with mental health, as mental health services were interrupted and had longer wait times.

In response, SOS launched a text messaging service, Care Text, in October last year to provide support to those in distress.

Since its pilot in July, the service had completed 3,000 chats last year. Most of its clients were aged 29 and below.

  • Total number of suicide and crisis calls received by Samaritans of Singapore:

    2019 - 33,387

    2020 - 39,492

    Total number of suicide and crisis calls received by SOS between April and June:

    2019 - 7,844

    2020 - 10,671

    Total number of calls on mental health inquiries received by the Singapore Association for Mental Health:

    2019 - 2,143

    2020 - 2,719

    Average number of calls for mental health support received monthly by Brahm Centre:

    August 2019 to January 2020 - 79.9

    February 2020 to March 2020 - 192

    April 2020 to June 2020 - 227

    July 2020 to February 2021 - 243.2

Other mental health organisations also received more calls for help.

The Institute of Mental Health's mental health helpline received 48 per cent more calls between April and December last year, compared with the same period in 2019, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in a parliamentary response to Ms Raeesah Khan (Sengkang GRC), who asked about postpartum and mental health issues on Feb 26.

  • Helplines

  • Samaritans of Singapore 1800 221-4444 (24 hours)

    Institute of Mental Health 6389-2222 (24 hours)

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

    TOUCHline 1800 377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

    Brahm Centre Assistline 6655-0000 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

    After hours: 8823-0000 (WhatsApp available)

Ms Voon Yen Sing, assistant director of clinical services at the Singapore Association for Mental Health, said it received 2,719 calls last year, an increase from 2,143 in 2019.

It also saw a 50 per cent increase in the number of calls to its helpline between April and June last year, compared with the same period in 2019, she added.

Ms May Chng, head of the family support team at Brahm Centre, an organisation that provides mental health support, said the centre attended to an average of 227 calls a month from April to June last year, up from 80 a month from August 2019 to January last year.

Calls have continued to increase and the centre now gets more than 240 calls a month.

She added that between April and June last year, several of their new clients faced job-related stressors.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Counselling Centre attended to 70 per cent more counselling sessions from May last year, said its chief well-being officer John Shepherd Lim.

He added: "This Covid-19 season has been tough on us. It is important for us to look forward by making the most out of the things we do have, and to support those who are in emotional or financial need."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2021, with the headline Spike in calls to SOS last year as more in distress amid pandemic. Subscribe