TS Loh

Suicide in Singapore

In The Reader on May 26, 2009 at 6:00 am

Old year, and then a new year,
It feels the same here, to me.
I ache, and I cry,
And in many a sideway glance I try,
As if perchance, by slightest chance,
To catch a glimpse, however brief,
Of a figure that once was,
And still is, very dear to me. 

When she was only 7, Yin’s mum committed suicide through a drug overdose.

40 years later, suicide was to rear its ugly head again in Yin’s family. Her dad, in his late 80s took his own life by jumping out of his living room window.

Yin, a physiotherapist,  wrote about her experience in WHY? When Both My Parents Took Their Lives.

Though it is a heart-rending read, I’m glad Yin wrote the book, because I believe it must have been cathartic for her.

To lose both parents to suicide is not a thought I even know how to entertain, but it happened to Yin and it was understandably traumatic.

The thing is suicide is really not that uncommon. The fact of the matter is that while this may be Singapore’s “golden period” more people here are quietly killing themselves.

Suicide is a significant non-medical cause of death in Singapore. Although attempted suicide is an offence punishable with jail under section 309 of the Penal Code, Singapore still sees many cases of suicide each year. Between 2000 and 2004, 1,700 people killed themselves, and in 2007 suicides amounted to about 2.2 per cent of all deaths. For every successful suicide attempt, there were seven unsuccessful ones.

It was reported in 2006 that suicide was the one of the top causes of death of Singapore youths. In 2001, five children younger than 15 years took their lives, and 37 people between the ages of 15 and 25 did so.

We are also told that there is at least one suicide per day and that more people die from suicide than in accidents.

Two age groups – men in their 40s and women in their 50s – stand out. The suicide numbers of these andropausal men and menopausal women outpaced population increases.

Men in their 40s are a concern. In 2007, 65 such men killed themselves, the highest for any age group in either gender. It works out to more than one a week.

They are in the so-called “sandwich generation” (“middlescence”) that has the burden of caring for young children and ageing parents. Work stress also tends to be high in this age group. The government tells everyone to own homes and now these people have precious little left to retire on. Many Singaporeans do not have enough retirement savings and have been advised to work beyond 65 years to survive in this expensive city. (Government data shows that 50 per cent of people here are likely to “outlive their retirement savings”.)

Men are also far less likely to seek help than women. If their coping mechanism is not strong, they could be in trouble. And when men commit suicide, they use methods that have finality to it. In other words men use more violent, immediately lethal methods of suicide.

More women in their 50s have also gone over the edge. In 2007, 33 killed themselves, up from 16 in 2003. 

Why do people off themselves?

Suicide happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with it.

Those thinking of killing themselves can either find a way to reduce their pain, or find a way to increase their ability to cope.

We must be sensitive to the needs of our friends and relatives and do our utmost to reach out and save them if we detect signs of distress and despondency.

When someone is in enough pain to swallow his pride and to confide that he’s depressed, we mustn’t ignore him.

Because one day the cries for help will stop.

Permanently.

Then, even a lifetime of regret will not be sufficient to atone for our callousness.

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