Youth suicide cases worrying: Lawrence Wong

Social media cited in US study, and S'pore not immune to global trends: Lawrence Wong

Close to 800,000 people around the world die due to suicide every year, and the numbers are rising, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

What is worrying, though, is the rising suicide numbers among young people, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said.

Noting that social media has been attributed as a cause, he cited a United States study which found that teens who spend more time on electronic devices and social media are more likely to be at risk of depression and suicide.

Mr Wong was speaking at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) yesterday. It was held in NTUC Centre and attended by professionals from the social service sector.

While there are no similar local studies linking social media use with suicide, Mr Wong, a patron of SOS, said Singapore is not "immune" to global suicide trends and that social media shapes a person's self-worth.

He said on the link between social media and suicide: "Perhaps it is due to cyber-bullying on social media platforms, perhaps it is because social media plays a part in shaping their sense of self-worth, and it drives a certain fear of missing out - there is even an acronym for it, FOMO - and the fear of being left out, it amplifies negative emotions of insecurity and inferiority.

"And in the absence of an adequate support system, the dangers that depression or suicidal thoughts go unchecked increase."

According to the WHO, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29 globally.

  • HELPLINES

  • Samaritans of Singapore:

    1800-221-4444 (24 hours)

  • Mental Health Helpline:

    6389-2222 (24 hours)

  • Singapore Association for Mental Health:

    1800-283-7019

  • Tinkle Friend (for primary school-aged children):

    1800-274-4788

  • Care Corner Counselling Hotline (Mandarin):

    1800-353-5800

 
 
 
 

SOS said that suicide remains the leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 29 in Singapore. Last year, 94 young people chose to end their own lives.

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 suicide figures began being recorded in 1991.

Facebook Asia-Pacific's safety policy manager Snow White Smelser, who spoke at the conference, emphasised the importance of social media platforms in highlighting potential suicidal or harmful behaviour for possible intervention.

She said that Facebook and Instagram frequently update their policies to prevent harmful or suicidal content from being propagated.

One way to help the tech companies is for users to flag and report suicidal content such as a depressingly worded post or a graphic image promoting self-harm.

From April to June, Facebook took down 1.5 million pieces of content related to suicide or self-injury globally. On Instagram, 800,000 such pieces were taken down.

"Facebook and Instagram can be a great tool to connect with friends and family. But we want to make sure that everyone who uses these platforms does so safely," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2019, with the headline 'Youth suicide cases worrying: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe