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Rise in suicides among the young

  Tuesday, 27 l 07 l 2010 Source:  The Straits Times  
By: Frankie Chee

Those aged 20 to 29 worst hit; recession blamed


SUICIDE rates bucked a downward trend last year, rising as the economy took a beating.

There were 401 such deaths, up from 364 in 2008, with the young being the most affected during last year’s recession.

In the latest statistics from the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), an organisation dedicated to suicide prevention, the suicide rate rose from 8.76 per 100,000 residents in 2008 to 9.35 last year.

The increase was most marked in young people. Among those aged 10 to 29, 91 killed themselves, compared with 64 in 2008. Seventy-two of them were between 20 and 29 years old.

Ms Christine Wong, executive director of SOS, said callers in this age group to the SOS hotline often speak of difficulty in coping with stress, as well as depression and loneliness.

There is a proven correlation between the economic situation and suicide rate, said Dr Chia Boon Hock, a psychiatrist who has been studying suicide trends in Singapore for more than 40 years.

He noted several major suicide peaks in Singapore over the last 100 years, all of which occurred after major financial meltdowns such as the 1985 recession or periods of war such as the Japanese Occupation in Singapore.

“Unemployment and financial stress is an important factor leading to suicide. The increased stress from worrying about money or job loss can trigger other mental illnesses such as depression that can result in suicide,” he said.

Those in the 20 to 29 age group were especially hit, with a marked increase from 52 to 72 deaths in 2008 and last year respectively.

Youth suicides among those in the 10 to 19 age bracket also reached a six-year high last year, with 19 taking their own lives compared with 12 in 2008.

According to experts, the bad economy could have a trickle-down effect on the very young as they face increased stress when their parents have to deal with unexpected financial woes.

Relationship problems with peers or family members is one of the top reasons for suicide among the young.

“The recession causes social and financial pressure for most families. This could lead to greater tension in the relationship between parents and their children,” said Dr Daniel Fung, chief of the child and adolescent psychiatry department at the Institute of Mental Health.

“Unfortunately, suicide is a very permanent solution for what is usually a temporary problem,” he added.

Overall, males appear to be more at risk of suicide, regardless of the age group. A total of 267 men committed suicide last year, double the 134 women who killed themselves.

“Men may not openly express their problems or seek support or professional help,” explained Ms Wong.

She said that individuals with fewer coping mechanisms, weak family support and social networks may be more vulnerable when they are overwhelmed by feelings of desperation and hopelessness.

However, despite the increase, Dr Chia and Dr Fung say that Singapore’s suicide rate is actually on an overall downward trend over the last 50 years.

Programmes such as the SOS hotline, which was launched in 1969, provide a much-needed 24-hour support system geared towards suicide prevention for individuals in crisis.

Additionally, schools have been rolling out numerous programmes in recent years targeted at promoting mental health and fostering a peer support network among students.

“Youth often don’t communicate with their parents when they are facing problems. Therefore getting their peers to spot warning signs or to provide support is the key to suicide prevention among the young,” said Dr Fung.

Among the elderly, suicide rates are showing a significant drop over the last five decades in Singapore.

Between 1955 and 1959, suicide rates among those above the age of 60 averaged at 99 deaths yearly. In the 2000 to 2004 period, the average halved to 47.5 yearly for those in the same age group.

“The main reason for this is that the population has become wealthier. With schemes such as CPF (Central Provident Fund) and medical subsidies from the Government, the elderly are better taken care of, driving less to suicide,” said Dr Chia.

- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Care Corner Mandarin Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800
- Tinkle Friend: 1800-2744-788

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