10 JANUARY 2017
Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong
Non-Constituency Member of Parliament
To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development
(a) what is the number of people who have committed suicide or attempted suicide each year in the past five years;
(b) how many were aged 60 and above;
(c) how many of these seniors were living by themselves and how many were living with their families; and
(d) what resources and programmes are currently in place to help to address the likely causes of such suicides and to prevent the suicide rates from increasing.
Between 2011 and 2015, there was an average of about 415 deaths from suicides each year, of which an average of 116 involved persons aged 60 and above. In terms of trends, for the elderly specifically, there are no particular trends that we picked up. It varies from year to year but there is no particular spike in numbers. We do not also have the specific breakdown of the living arrangements of these persons who committed suicide.
As the causes of suicides are complex and multi-faceted, we do need to take a holistic perspective when we examine and try to review each individual suicide and to see how we should approach it. Certainly, we take a whole-of-government approach.
Why it seems a lot more visible today, I guess a lot of it has got to do with media, especially social media. When news breaks, stories sometimes are shared in various forums. It is circulated and a lot more awareness is there. But when we look at the numbers themselves, the trends are not picking up in a big way. It does not mean that it is not important because every life lost via suicide is one death too many and we should endeavour to try to prevent it.
It is also, perhaps, a bit simplistic to label the reasons as to why it happens because there are social issues, there are relationship issues, family issues, mental health issues and sometimes a combination of various factors that causes individuals to take their own lives.
We want to work together with community partners, particularly to raise awareness on suicide prevention, encourage distressed persons to seek help, and provide professional support and crisis intervention to at-risk groups.
Essentially, there are four ways in which we want to approach this.
The first one is through public education. Under the Seniors Health Curriculum, which is rolled out by Health Promotion Board (HPB), this is part of our National Seniors’ Health Programme, where seniors are taught social-emotional and self-care skills, and how to seek help if necessary. HPB also conducts workshops in workplaces to educate Singaporeans, in particular mature workers, on mental resilience and well-being.
Secondly, it is through proactive outreach and support. To prevent social isolation and to help us detect risks among seniors early, Senior Activity Centres (SACs) conduct social activities and carry out home visits to reach out to elderly living in rental flats. The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) also works with community-based organisations, including the SACs, to support seniors who may be at risk of depression and dementia via the Community Resource, Engagement and Support Teams (CREST) programme. It is part of the Community Befriending Programme that volunteer befrienders visit seniors regularly to prevent social isolation and support their needs. This is something that all of us as individuals can do. We really should think about mobilising our residents and volunteers to play a part in this effort because it is really about picking up information, picking tell-tale signs and providing social support where we can. Of course, Family Service Centres (FSCs) support families and individuals, including seniors, through casework and counselling to resolve their relationship, financial, emotional difficulties and so on.
Thirdly, in the crisis response effort. Those in distress or who are facing crises do call the Samaritans of Singapore, which operates a 24-hour hotline. IMH also operates a 24-hour Mental Health Helpline manned by counsellors who can assess and after that triage cases, and activate home visit teams if necessary.
Lastly, while all these initiatives are important, the most critical role really is played by the individuals themselves. Families − let us not forget the role that families play − and, of course, the community − the people who live around us.
At the individual level, individuals should take personal responsibility. They need to raise self-awareness − be self-aware and recognise tell-tale signs so that they can seek help early when feeling overwhelmed and emotionally distressed.
Family members must help to pick up signs of distress and render emotional support, or help the troubled family member to seek professional assistance early. Co-workers, colleagues at work, friends and neighbours can also play a very important role in offering assistance and support to those facing life’s challenges.
Without these steps, even the best support programmes that we put in place will be rendered ineffective. So, we must all step forward and play an active part in looking out for our fellow Singaporeans, our loved ones and together with the rest of the other programmes we put in place, I think we have a good shot at reaching out to those who need help.