Suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29 in Singapore.
For each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts.
We need a national strategy led by a dedicated agency for greater effectiveness in coordination and implementation.
Every life is precious. Let us act now to save lives.
NATIONAL STRATEGY ON
YOUTH SUICIDE PREVENTION
According to Singapore's only suicide prevention organisation, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), suicide deaths number more than road accidents in the country. They reported that in 2020 the number of suicides totalled 452, with youths (10 to 29 years) comprising 101 lives. Attempted suicides total 2,795 in 2020 according to government figures published in a news report by CNA. Phone calls of distress and messages via email and chat services had also increased among the young, indicating a louder cry for help and deeper signals of distress. The cumulative number of deaths in this age group clearly shows them to be the most vulnerable (see Youth Suicide Information and WHO). We must waste no time in addressing youth suicide and identify stressors which impact youth mental health.
A National Strategy for Youth Suicide Prevention backed by strong commitment and leadership from a dedicated lead agency is an approach we must not overlook. Government, communities, NGOs, schools, media organisations, healthcare professionals, parents, faith-based organisations and youth themselves must come together to effectively prevent suicide and its upstream issues of depression, anxiety and mental illness.
“... without a national strategy for these efforts to align to, we risk having a fragmented and sub-optimal approach to supporting survivors and bereaved families.”
~ Anthea Ong, Nominated Member of Parliament.
We need a strong national agency to lead the implementation of the national strategy and to coordinate resources, gather data and supervise agencies entrusted with immediate youth suicide prevention plans in Singapore. Countries like New Zealand have a dedicated suicide prevention department under the Ministry of Health, showing clear political will in arresting suicide in the country. We can learn from organised groups like the The National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA), an alliance of public, private and voluntary organisations in England who care about suicide prevention. Such models of leadership give good frameworks for managing sustainable suicide prevention plans and offer sound advice to anticipate pitfalls moving forward.
WHY A SUICIDE PREVENTION STRATEGY IS IMPORTANT
An editorial in Hogrefe (2019) gave valuable insights into why a suicide prevention strategy is critical to arresting the scourge of suicide deaths. Top of their reason is that it indicates government's recognition that suicide prevention is a national health priority and an emergency. It allows for structural changes to be effected and resources to be available. Without leadership and clarity of approach, youth suicide will continue unabated.
Indicates government’s clear recognition that suicidal behavior is a priority public health issue and that society is committed to its prevention and reduction
Provides a logic model and structural framework, identifying vision and strategic objectives, inputs (e.g., resources, expertise, partnerships), outputs (e.g., participants, activities), short-term outcomes, long-term impact, and approach to monitoring and evaluation
Provides authoritative leadership and guidance about effective implementation of evidence-informed activities
Identifies partners who are accountable for specific tasks, and promotes effective collaboration and coordination at national and local levels
Identifies crucial gaps in legislation, service provision, and knowledge
Indicates the scale of necessary human and financial resources
Shapes advocacy, awareness raising, and media communications
Proposes a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to promote accountability and learning, and to track progress toward the achievement of strategic objectives
Provides a context for a research agenda on suicidal behavior and its prevention/reduction
Part of the strategy for suicide prevention must also include talking responsibly about it. We need to use the proper terminology, phrases and words in our discussions. Words which are compassionate and/or neutral helps in reducing the stigma associated with suicide. The phrase "committed suicide" while commonly used has criminal overtones while "completed suicide" is best avoided for its paradoxical premise. Best terms to use by far are "death/died by suicide" or "fatal suicide attempt or non-fatal suicide attempt". Read Suicide & Language.
'Language matters when discussing issues of suicide; language reflects our attitudes and influences our attitudes and the attitudes of others. Words have power; words matter. The language we choose is an indicator of social injustice and has the power to shape our ideas and feelings in very insidious ways.'
Several articles give clear guidelines to the media and communities on how best to discuss and communicate suicide. Psychology Today offers guidelines here :
Avoid sharing unnecessary details on the means or method of suicide. “The facts are enough,” “It is not helpful to know the exact details, as those details can sensationalize or glamorize death,”
Avoid language that criminalizes suicide. The phrase “committed suicide,” while commonly used, is discouraged as the word “commit” is often associated with criminal actions. Instead, media outlets are encouraged to use “died by suicide” or “killed him/herself.”
Avoid language that inflates suicide’s prevalence.
Focus on the deceased’s life—not just their death.
Always include suicide hotline numbers or links to other suicide prevention resources
Talk about suicide as mindfully as possible.
Continue the conversation about depression and suicide
Acknowledge that suicidal ideation and depression don’t discriminate
Encourage anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts to seek help.