Stress and suicides in Singapore go up

8 September 2003

A civic group that provides crisis counseling for potential suicides in Singapore is now turning its attention to working adults who are increasingly stressed out due to the gloomy economy.

Singaporeans aged between 20 and 49 years made up the bulk of suicide cases from 1997 to 2001, said a spokeswoman for Samaritans of Singapore(SOS), a 34 year-old organization staffed mostly by volunteers.

The latest figures available from Singapore’s Registry of Births and Deaths show that almost 70 percent of suicides in 2001 were from that age group.

They also constitute more than 65 percent of suicide attempts referred by the police, and more than 71 percent of those referred to SOS by hospitals.

“This is the age group where you have a lot of stress, as you are forming your families, making financial commitments, having stress at work, caring for the elderly and the children at home,” SOS spokeswoman Susan Lim told reporters.

With the jobless rate at about 5 percent — more than double the previous levels in a society used to virtually full employment — and personal bankruptcies also on the rise SOS has seen a surge in the number of people calling their 24-hour hotline to seek counseling for their financial woes.

“We don’t have exact numbers, but more people are now calling in with anxieties over retrenchment and friction in their relationships and within families over financial stress,” said Lim, who added that the center has received an average of 124 calls daily over the past year.

SOS hosts an annual Suicide Prevention Week to help raise public awareness on the warning signs of suicide and factors that increase the risk of killing oneself.

This year’s campaign was launched over the weekend and will be targeted at working adults instead of the youth and elderly for the first time since the awareness program was started in 1994.

Elderly people, aged 65 and above, previously accounted for a disproportionately high share of suicides. Their suicide rate is now at a 10-year low, from 40.1 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 17.8 in 2000.

SOS has launched an email “befriending service” to provide increased accessibility through an additional channel of help to people in distress. The non-profit organisation promises to reply to emails within 48 hours.

It has also commissioned a play entitled Staying Alive! that depicts a family plagued with problems, and will be conducting a workshop and panel discussion on coping with adversity and suicide intervention during the Suicide Prevention Week.

“We hope to draw them [20 to 49-year-olds] to the play…it is very real as it depicts a family where the father is retrenched and the daughter is unemployed,” Lim said. “There is a message that shows how the resilience of the individual overcomes the problems.”

The SOS was founded in 1969 and is fully funded by the Community Chest of Singapore. The center currently employs 11 permanent staff and has 171 volunteers from all walks of life.

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