What is the State of Mental Health in Singapore?
Suicide is still the leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 29 years old. In the last five years (2016-2020), we lost in 461 young lives in total in this age group to suicide. This works out to more than 90 precious lives lost each year, about eight each month. Every suicide is one death too many.
The grim picture above is only the tip of the iceberg as the numbers capture only the official/reported cases, and do not include suspected suicide cases which are classified under unnatural or accidental deaths. According to the World Health Organisation, for each death by suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. Based on records from the government there were 2795 attempted suicides in 2020. The CNA Report here.
Following the pandemic and various high profile tragedies and youth suicides in 2021, the government and the public have been forced to address the serious concerns about youth mental health and the multidimensional pressures within the social, economic and educational arenas. Healthcare workers and teachers have not been spared. See various reports here.
The challenges young people face in seeking mental health help (CNA, 10 AUg 2021)
Teachers talk of burnout (CNA, 5 Sep 2021)
Singapore counsellors face burnout (ST, 20 Sep 2021)
Depression and Anxiety Remain a Concern
for Singaporean Youth
-Extract from a news report on Singapore Mental Health Study released in 2019
It is estimated that about 18% of Singapore's youth suffer from depression. Children and young adults tend to face an increased chance of developing depression and anxiety due to chemical changes in the brain arising from puberty, societal and academic pressures and uncontrollable factors in their home life. In fact, about 50% of mental illnesses appear before age 14, with the rate of appearance increasing to 75% before age 24. A lot of youth may not understand what they are going through. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge, combined with misconceptions of mental illness, social ostracisation and a lack of support from friends and family may be contributing factors to youth suicide. All of which may be important factors in explaining the worrying trend of youth suicide.
WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION
WHO has reported that every year 800,000 people die by suicide each year and suicide is the second leading cause among young people. For many years, WHO has indicated that "Most causes of death of young people are preventable and treatable" (2010 Global study on deaths among young people) and have urged countries to implement a multi-sectoral National Strategies in Suicide Prevention. In a detailed report on the strategies worldwide, WHO compared the progress and indicators of success in some countries, namely England, Ireland and South Korea. Their report National Suicide Prevention Strategies (2018) lists more than 35 countries with specific national strategies with others integrating suicide prevention into their mental health plans. This resource, including a "toolkit" to help countries and communities implement suicide prevention activities and programmes, are valuable for lead agencies and ministries to adopt and adapt.
Daisy Mafubelu, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health, said:
"Young people are transitioning from childhood to adulthood - at the threshold of becoming productive members of society - yet they often fall through the cracks. It is clear from these findings that considerable investment is needed - not only from the health sector, but also from sectors including education, welfare, transport, and justice - to improve access to information and services, and help young people avoid risky behaviours that can lead to death."