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Commentary: A greater care culture among ways to better tackle the suicide issue, especially among youth

In 2021, 378 lives were lost to suicide, an improvement from the previous year, which saw the highest number of deaths recorded in recent times.

Globally, suicide remains the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds.

Globally, suicide remains the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds.

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In 2021, 378 lives were lost to suicide, an improvement from the previous year, which saw the highest number of deaths recorded in recent times.

However, this increase in overall deaths came with an increase in youth suicide rates from 101 in 2020 to 112 in 2021, accounting for slightly less than one-third of the total suicides recorded.

Globally, suicide remains the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. These are troubling figures, made worse by the challenging nature of predicting suicide.

Coupled with the pandemic and uncertainty before us, these are indeed trying times for everyone, as we mark World Suicide Prevention Day this Saturday (Sept 10).

PREDICTING POTENTIAL SUICIDES 

Unfortunately, even after decades of research and learning about various risk factors associated with suicide, we are still far from being able to forecast the possibility of people ending their lives accurately.

This challenge is due to the fact that suicide can sometimes be impulsive or done out of desperation, leaving little time for intervention to occur.

Research on planned versus unplanned suicides supports this idea and highlights how the interplay between certain traits such as impulsivity, aggression, and stress reactivity, and circumstantial factors further complicate matters.

These include the presence of chronic mental or physical health conditions, social environments, and life satisfaction, making it even more challenging to accurately pinpoint individuals most likely to engage in a particular type of suicide behaviour.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or have lost someone to it, various groups such as the Samaritans of Singapore, Please Stay Movement, Child Breavement Support (Singapore), and Wicare Support Group are here to help. 

How then can we move forward if it is near impossible to predict suicide and there are no fixed profiles of what someone who may attempt suicide could be like?

FOSTERING A GREATER CARE CULTURE

We can do so by first recognising that suicide prevention cannot start only when suicidal ideation or changes in behaviour occur – we need to foster a greater culture of care in our society.

By and large, it is not specialised training or crisis support services, as vital as they may be, that will identify and pick up on people who may be most willing to end their lives; it will be the people around them who first notice things being different.

Everyone needs to play their part in looking out for each other, making sure to check in with our friends and family frequently, and allowing people to know they are seen and heard.

It is important to note here that caring for people will look different from person to person.

Instead of doing or saying what you think constitutes care, have casual conversations and ask people what care looks like for them or take note of how they receive various acts of care to identify their preferences.

This closeness and familiarity that is created between people will allow for us to be well-positioned to notice subtle behavioural shifts or changes that could be an indication that something has occurred and that is when intervention of some form should occur.

These small acts, which may seem insignificant, are actually vital for supporting others around us, especially youths who are often going through multiple life transitions in a short span of time and may struggle to adapt, making consistent effort to reach out could be the potential difference between life and death.

HAVING EFFECTIVE CONVERSATIONS 

Additionally, we need to have more effective conversations about death and suicide.

In Singapore, death is still largely a taboo topic, especially among people from older generations, while younger people may be more candid about these topics.

It is entirely understandable why talking about our mortality can be unappealing, but doing so can also be transformative and allow us to develop a healthier relationship with the idea of death.

By becoming more open about sharing our thoughts and feelings more broadly about death, we are letting go of certain anxieties related to it and may even find shared perspectives with others through the process.

This increased openness about death also makes talking about them simpler. So often, people are afraid of speaking candidly about suicide because they are concerned it will trigger the person to go through with it or cause more harm.

These are valid concerns, but it is also important to realise that by speaking about it candidly and openly with someone who has expressed thoughts about suicide to us, we are actually validating and accepting their experience and allowing them to share more freely.

People who share about their suicidal thoughts are equally afraid of doing so because of how people may receive such information and are often relieved when others talk about it casually with them.

Particularly because suicide is known to be highly stigmatised in Singapore, the acceptance of such sharings can be vital to start the healing process, especially for younger people who believe suicide can prevented and often choose to reach out to people around them.

During this process, authenticity and genuineness need to come through. These cries for help and desire to be heard cannot be ignored.

If you are afraid and uncertain of what to do, voice it out and let the person who is sharing know, but also be sure to emphasise that you are still here with them and will continue to be to support them in any way they feel is necessary.

SUICIDE PREVENTION A NEVER-ENDING EFFORT

Suicide prevention is a never-ending effort and requires not just mental health professionals but everyone in society. As a society, we need to start becoming a kinder and more caring one.

Seeking help can be scary, and having someone there as they seek professional services makes it that much easier. 

This is especially so for younger people who are exploring their social identity and may have fears for their future or how others around them would respond.

A special group that needs to be mentioned here in relation to suicide are those who have lost people to it and may be grieving or feeling guilty.

It is important we help support these individuals, guide them to support groups or formal help, check-in frequently with them, and hold space for them while they grieve in their desired manner.   

There are positive signs that we are headed in the right direction but we need to keep doing better.

Conversations about death need to become more commonplace, and we need to all learn to become comfortable with having discussions around such a topic.

Doing so will allow for more comfortable and effective discourse around suicide to blossom. 

Hopefully, this helps people who are suicidal feel more willing to talk about it and seek help earlier.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jonathan Kuek is a doctoral candidate and mental health researcher at the University of Sydney, specialising in recovery approaches to the management and understanding of mental health conditions. He is also the co-founder of The Total Wellness Initiative Singapore, which seeks to encourage people to be more proactive with their well-being.

WHERE TO GET HELP

  • National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
  • Fei Yue's Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg website (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)
  • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1-767 (24 hours)
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
  • Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
  • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)
  • Touchline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

Related topics

suicide prevention mental health

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