Rise in suicides feared amid recession

April 2, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Carrie is a Singaporean housewife in her 50s, but unlike other middle-aged women in her neighbourhood, she does not spend her mornings doing chores, shopping or planning lunch with friends.

AFP

Carrie is a Singaporean housewife in her 50s, but unlike other middle-aged women in her neighbourhood, she does not spend her mornings doing chores, shopping or planning lunch with friends.

Instead she sits in an office with other volunteers listening to calls from desperate people who are thinking of killing themselves, and tries to convince them that life is still worth living.

“When I take a call, I’ll try to listen and empathise with what the caller is going through and I will remind myself not to be judgmental,” she said.

Carrie works with the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), a non-profit organisation which aims to prevent suicides by providing emotional support through private counselling and a 24-hour telephone hotline.

Carrie cannot reveal her full identity as counsellors with SOS must agree to a confidentiality clause when signing up.

As the global economy tanks and an increasing number of people get laid off in Singapore, SOS is seeking more volunteers to cope with a rise in the number of callers in need of solace from a kind voice.

“We do see an increase in terms of callers presenting problems related to material issues, such as unemployment and business failures,” said Tan-Lee Yoke Yin, deputy director of SOS.

Suicide cases have consistently hovered at two percent of total deaths in Singapore, with 374 cases recorded in 2007, though the number of attempted suicides is believed to be far higher.

SOS received 45,050 calls in 2007, the latest available data. Tan is preparing her staff to receive more calls this year.

“We probably will see more calls especially in that category where people want to call in to talk about their financial problems. We do live in a competitive environment, it could be one reason why people are feeling the stress,” Tan said.

Similar counselling centres in other Asian financial capitals are grappling with added work.

Suicide Prevention Services, a non-governmental group in Hong Kong, said it had seen a 45 percent increase in calls for help in the past three months, compared with the same period last year.

The number of calls related to financial difficulties surged 78.5% year-on-year, the South China Morning Post reported.

“Many were disheartened in the few months (since the economic crisis began in September) because they were sacked or lost all their savings on the stock market,” Elsie Chien, deputy director of the group, told the newspaper.

Suicidologists, as experts on the subject are called, said the hike in cases during the economic downturn was to be expected.

“During a recession, there’s definitely bound to be a jump in cases of suicide, mainly because of unemployment,” said Chia Boon Hock, who runs a private psychiatric practice in Singapore.

Chia, who has studied suicide trends in Singapore, added that the three main peaks occurred during the Great Depression, before and during World War Two and in 1985, the first year the Singapore economy had fallen into recession since independence 20 years earlier.

During the current global crisis, Singapore was the first Asian economy to hit recession. The economy is forecast to shrink by as much as five percent in 2009.

In South Korea, where data from 2006 showed 22 Koreans per 100,000 killing themselves, psychiatrists say a fifth of patients who currently consult them for depression are victims of the economic crash.

“Those who suffer from depression tend to blame themselves for everything that went wrong. They torture themselves over the market crash, even though the crisis is a global one,” said Ha Jee-Hyun, a psychiatrist at Konkuk University Hospital.

An asset manager in South Korea was suspected of killing himself in November 2008 after he was unable to recover his investors’ money.

“I feel sorry to my friends for failing to achieve that. I’d like to pay my debt back by death,” Yonhap news agency reported him as saying in a note he left behind.

In Japan, where suicide rates are one of the highest in the region, relief groups worried about a repeat of 1998 when suicide numbers exceeded 30,000 for the first time as Japan suffered the worst of its economic “lost decade”.

“In the current situation the number of suicides will rise, likely toward the end of the fiscal year,” said Yasuyuki Shimizu of Tokyo-based non-profit group Life Link, which supports relatives of suicides.

“The crisis may have already begun.”

Tan of SOS said a report last year by the Straits Times newspaper showing seven attempts for every successful suicide in Singapore “may be a conservative comparison” because police are not notified of all cases.

Suicide is an offence under Singapore law, and anyone who survives an attempt faces a jail term of up to a year, a fine or both.

Tan said Singapore should promote more “life skills” and enhance “protective factors such as physical and mental health” to help prevent suicides.

For now, counsellors such as Carrie keep a vigil at the SOS phone lines and use various techniques to dissuade the suicidal from taking the fatal step.

“I help them to explore their options. Sometimes its like when you are in the woods, you can’t see the lights. When you step out, you see a bigger picture,” she said.

“I find that people usually do not want you to tell them what to do. If you listen enough, sometimes callers will talk it out and come to a conclusion or solution themselves.”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Rest-of-World/Rise-in-suicides-across-Asia-feared-amid-recession/articleshow/4348331.cms