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NMP Anthea Ong calls for national suicide prevention strategy aiming for zero suicides

SINGAPORE — Singapore should develop a national suicide prevention strategy that aims for zero suicides, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong said on Wednesday (March 25), noting that suicide rates here have not budged much over the decades even as the country has grown into a high-income nation.

Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong said that while some may argue that Singapore’s suicide numbers are not high by international standards, it is still not doing enough because the number of deaths by suicides here has remained relatively unchanged.

Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong said that while some may argue that Singapore’s suicide numbers are not high by international standards, it is still not doing enough because the number of deaths by suicides here has remained relatively unchanged.

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — Singapore should develop a national suicide prevention strategy that aims for zero suicides, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong said on Wednesday (March 25), noting that suicide rates here have not budged much over the decades even as the country has grown into a high-income nation.

In her adjournment motion in Parliament, Ms Ong said: “Whilst some may argue that Singapore’s suicide numbers are not high by international standards, we are still not doing enough because the number of deaths by suicides in Singapore has remained relatively unchanged from 9.5 suicides per 100,000 residents in the 1980s to 8.3 suicides per 100,000 residents today.”

She noted that Singapore is not listed as one of the few high-income countries with a national suicide prevention strategy even though it is a member of the World Health Organization (WHO).

She then called on the Government to lead and coordinate efforts in suicide prevention, starting from the establishment of a national strategy.

This, she said, should begin with the Government identifying currently available resources as well as committing further resources and funding to improve suicide prevention and efforts to support individuals struggling with suicide.

“One example could be to expand funding for organisations like Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), not just to operate our de-facto national suicide helpline, but to ensure timely follow-ups with callers who need further support,” said Ms Ong.

The Government should also consider increasing resources and funding for mental healthcare services to address wait time and patient load issues, she added.

Ms Ong also said she was “deeply alarmed” that public hospitals do not track whether admissions are due to attempted suicide, despite studies showing that 83 per cent of people who die by suicide visit some kind of doctor a year before their death.

“Healthcare facilities, especially emergency departments, are a logical place to prevent suicides,” she said.

Ms Ong also noted that since Singapore decriminalised suicides this year, data of suicide attempts is no longer required by the criminal code.

And without data surveillance of attempted suicides, the Government’s ability in developing complete strategies is limited.

She thus called for a national strategy of data surveillance, coordinated across government agencies and community partners. With such data, “the transparency and awareness of the support available can be improved, allowing various stakeholders to better position their role and plan their work in tackling suicides”, she said.

A robust framework of monitoring and evaluation is also needed to inculcate a sense of accountability for those who are in charge of interventions, she added.

The national strategy should also include clear and strong suicide prevention and post-suicide intervention guidelines in schools, Ms Ong said, adding: “We have a crisis on our hands with the spike in teenage suicides.”

She noted that teenage suicides peaked in 2018, the highest since suicide tracking started in 1991.

Community support groups that focus on suicide prevention, such as the SOS, Please Stay and Caring for Life are key stakeholders in this whole-of-society effort to reduce and prevent suicides.

“However, without a national strategy for these efforts to align to, we risk having a fragmented and sub-optimal approach to supporting survivors and bereaved families,” she said. 

She added: “We must stand firm in the belief that suicides are preventable and commit to the efforts in making that possible.”

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

In response, Dr Amy Khor, the Senior Minister of State for Health, said that the Government has strengthened efforts to prevent suicides and will continue to do so.

For example, she noted the Ministry of Education has announced that it will include mental health education in the revised Character and Citizenship Education syllabus, while the Ministry of Health will be setting up an Integrated Youth Service in Woodlands this year to help young people through mental health issues.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) will also offer mental well-being programmes to equip students with the skills to cope with stress, overwhelming emotions, interpersonal conflicts, as well as change and transitions, she added.

HPB also organises healthy ageing workshops that include psychosocial education modules aimed at empowering seniors aged 50 years or older with the knowledge and skills to manage their mental well-being.

And despite the decriminalisation of suicide, the Government will continue to track reports of such cases, Dr Khor said.

Public hospitals are also working on tracking attempted suicide cases that they attend to, she added.

Related topics

suicide prevention mental health Anthea Ong Parliament

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