What is the State of Mental Health in Singapore?
The numbers of youth suicides in Singapore has remained high. Suicide is still the leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 29 years old. In the last five years (2015-2019), we lost in 466 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 Ministry of Home Affairs, from 2017 to 2019, there are about 1,204 attempted suicides each year.
Over the past three years, the number of children aged 7 to 18 years old admitted into public hospitals for mental health conditions has also increased. According to MOH, it was 569 in 2016, 640 in 2017 and 607 in 2018. Another stark fact - the number of distress calls reported by SOS has grown to more than 4000 among those in their 20s in the past year. All these numbers point to this - that young people need support and society has a responsibility to act urgently to help keep them safe. Moreover, agencies need to collect and report data that is consistent and accurate in order to better support a strategy for suicide prevention. (Refer to Report in Parliament (Mar 2020) and in SOS' press release (Aug2020) and Straits Times, Apr 2019.)
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."