Suicide cases rise nearly 30% to hit 20-year high

The number of suicides hit a 20-year high last year, with the most significant increase coming from people between the ages of 20 and 29. -- TNP FILE PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
The number of suicides hit a 20-year high last year, with the most significant increase coming from people between the ages of 20 and 29. -- TNP FILE PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

THE number of suicides hit a 20-year high last year, with the most significant increase coming from people between the ages of 20 and 29.

According to the latest statistics, there were 467 suicides last year - nearly 30 per cent more than in the previous year - raising the national suicide rate from 8.13 per 100,000 resident population in 2011 to 10.27 last year.

While experts were unable to attribute the spike to any one factor, psychiatrist Ang Yong Guan noted that suicide depended on the interplay of three factors: the problems one is facing, one's personality, and the coping skills and resources available.

"Difficulties in coping with stress and a sense of helplessness must have driven them to suicide," he said.

The rise of cases among those between the ages of 20 and 29 was a source of special concern to suicide prevention group Samaritans of Singapore (SOS). This age group had the most significant spike in suicide numbers, from 46 in 2011 to 83 last year.

While the SOS received fewer helpline calls last year, it received more referrals from those aged 20 to 29. Last year, 95 people in this age group were referred to SOS for attempting suicide, a rise from 69 in 2011.

About 4,500, or 34 per cent, who called its suicide hotline last year were also aged 20 to 29, while 73 of them wrote to SOS to express suicidal thoughts.

SOS runs a service to support families of those who had killed themselves. A total of 27 suicides from such families are also in this younger age group.

Experts say young people often struggle with problems such as unemployment or family life.

"People in their 20s experience many life changes - getting married, climbing the corporate ladder, discovering their identity, buying a house; it is a stressful period," said psychiatrist Adrian Wang, who has seen more patients in their 20s.

Dr Ang too said that these life changes and a lack of maturity might be a possible reason they take their lives.

"Lacking in life's experiences, their resilience might be low and their ability to deal with the demands of life is limited," he said. "And if this were compounded by a low self-esteem and emotional insecurity due to a traumatic childhood and upbringing, it would make them even more vulnerable to suicide."

SOS executive director Christine Wong encouraged those with suicidal thoughts to seek help.

The community should also play a part in "de-stigmatising" suicide by letting loved ones know it is all right to talk about their feelings, she added.

The agency will be embarking on a project to raise awareness on the struggles of youth. Those aged 10 to 30 are being invited to e-mail unhidingthehidden@ samaritans.org.sg to share their emotional struggles, and selected letters will be exhibited at Vivocity from Sept 10 to 16 in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day. Writers can write them under a pseudonym, SOS said.

kashc@sph.com.sg