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Rise in proportion of youth committing suicide

SINGAPORE — Although there was an overall decline in the number of suicides here last year, the figures pointed to a rise in the proportion of youth below 30 years old who committed suicide during the same period.

Samaritans Of Singapore hotline. TODAY file photo

Samaritans Of Singapore hotline. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Although there was an overall decline in the number of suicides here last year, the figures pointed to a rise in the proportion of youth below 30 years old who committed suicide during the same period.

Youth suicides comprised 24 per cent of all suicides last year — up from the 10-year average of 20 per cent, showed figures released yesterday by Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), an organisation dedicated to suicide prevention. There were 422 suicides last year, down from 467 suicides in 2012 — a 10 per cent decrease.

The national suicide rate was 9.29 per 100,000 residents last year, down from 10.27 in 2012.

Over the past decade, the total number of suicides averaged at 395, while the suicide rate averaged at 9.28.

Between April last year and March this year, 45 per cent of the 168 people who came for crisis counselling at the SOS were below 30 years old.

SOS said issues relating to family ties were among the top three problems faced by this age group, along with depression and boy-girl relationship issues.

Mr Wilson Tan, executive director of Youth Guidance Outreach Services, noted that over the past two to three years, counsellors had seen a gradual rise in the number of youth coming from “a stressful family environment”.

Noting the importance of the family unit to a youth’s development, he added: “If the family structure is not stable or faces stressors, it will cause emotional turmoil and (weaken) its ability to cope with these stressors.”

SOS said it provided emotional support to 993 people through its email befriending service last year. Of the 420 people who revealed their age, 229 (or 80 per cent) were below 30 and more than half of them were distressed by family relationships.

Its hotline calls also showed that suicidal youth pointed to family relationships as the most common problems leading to intense distress and suicidal thoughts.

SOS executive director Christine Wong said their interactions with these youth highlighted a “general disconnect” between them and their families. “There appears to be a lack of effective communication and understanding between family members,” she added.

Ms Wong noted that youth are also generally more comfortable using online or virtual interfaces, rather than talking face-to-face.

With technology playing a part in the disconnect between youth and their families, some counsellors felt parents should do more to reach out to their children.

“It is important for parents to be educated on why kids are drawn to the digital world, to spend time talking to their children to better understand their needs and concerns, as well as to model for their young how to relate to others in real life,” said Mr Lam Wai Mun, senior counsellor at TOUCH 
Cyber Wellness.

Senior assistant director of Fei Yue Family Service Centre, Ms Rachel Lee, added that parents should use various channels to connect with their children, including face-to-face interactions and new media such as Facebook. “Parents need to think how to create a space where you can connect,” she said.

Several youth told TODAY that keeping themselves happy and occupied is important to prevent suicidal thoughts. Buyer Jasmine Goh, who harboured suicidal thoughts a decade ago, said she would attempt to harm herself then when she could not cope with family problems.

“I felt like no one could understand what I was going through and the only escape was to cut myself,” Ms Goh, 24, said. “My friends found out only when they saw the scars and that was when I started going out. Later, I got myself out of it. Friends keep me occupied”.

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