More vulnerable teens as stress levels increase
More children and teens, aged 19 and below, have asked for help after considering suicide.
The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) said that in 2013, they had 224 clients from this age group writing in to them through its E-mail Befriending Service, which is more popular among the younger age groups.
And of them, 163 clients, or 73 per cent, were considered to be at real risk of taking their lives.
The group is of concern for SOS because of the rise in the number of youngsters seeking help: they saw 65 more young people in 2013, compared with the year before.
Add to that the fact that a caller or writer to SOS can remain anonymous and not reveal his age and this number could be just the tip of a iceberg.
SOS executive director Christine Wong explained that young people were vulnerable because they may not have the resources to deal with pain and conflict.
"Many young people find it difficult to talk about their struggle and to express the pain they are feeling inside," she said.
"They tend to hide their pain behind a facade, not knowing where, how or who they can approach for help. Some may try to cope on their own in ways that can be harmful to themselves."
Clinical psychologist Claudia Ahl said: "Children may feel so overwhelmed by strong negative emotions, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, that they cannot see the bigger picture and are unable to think rationally."
Family relationship issues are the most common reasons cited by those who sought help, said Ms Wong.
Academic-related stress and depression are also common problems.
Teens also struggle with self-esteem and identity issues, including low self-worth, gender confusion and existential doubt, said consultant psychiatrist and medical director of The Resilienz Clinic, Dr Thomas Lee.
He said: "Children are facing increasing amounts of stress over the years, having to juggle schoolwork, tuition and loads of other co-curricular activities.
"They are further burdened by peer competition, as well as greater and sometimes unrealistic expectations from parents."
Dr Ong Say How, senior consultant and chief of Institute of Mental Health's child and adolescent psychiatry department said: "They also face higher expectations from all around - at home, in peer groups, in social media and in school."
With the increased use of social media, people in this age group also face additional social pressure, said Ms Vinti Mittal, 45, a counsellor at TenderAge Counselling.
Dr Lee said that one consequence is that children are exposed to all kinds of "undesirable and perilous material".
"They learn inappropriate methods to deal with problems. Some even turn to websites that promote suicide," he said.
SOS has set up its own research arm to "further strengthen evidence-based practice to look into information and findings that can aid local suicide prevention and intervention work... for the whole community".
He said it is important that society removes the stigma around suicide, especially the assumption that suicide is 'selfish' or 'attention-seeking'.
They tend to hide their pain behind a facade, not knowing where, how or who they can approach for help. Some may try to cope on their own in ways that can be harmful to themselves.
- SOS executive director Christine Wong on young people being vulnerable to dealing with pain
Some signs of suicide risk:
Increased withdrawal from family, friends and school
Lack of interest in favourite activities
Complaints about being a bad person or feeling like a burden
Expressions of hopelessness
An overwhelming sense of shame or guilt
A dramatic change in personality or appearance
Changes in eating or sleeping habits
A severe drop in school performance
A lack of interest in the future
Giving away prized possessions
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Parents can talk to their children in an open, calm and non-accusatory manner
Consultant psychiatrist, Dr Thomas Lee, said: "When children feel they have someone safe in the family they can talk to, they feel better, more understood and that gives parents an opening to explain the value of seeing a mental health professional."
Build resilience by teaching them positive coping skills and telling them it is okay to ask for help
Dr Ong Say How, chief of the Institute of Mental Health's child and adolescent psychiatry department, said: "A warm, nurturing and cohesive family is critical in that it allows the child to feel safe enough to explore the external world outside himself or herself."
Do things together as a family, keeping to traditions and having a shared faith and belief system
Dr Ong added: "Let the child face challenges, even if they might make mistakes, (this) would aid in their developing a sense of responsibility, mastery, and confidence, (which are) important prerequisites for resilience cultivation."
Take all suicide threats or attempts seriously
Senior youth support worker, Ms Lee Yi Ping, said: "Eighty per cent of completed suicides have prior warning signs, which include having talked about it to someone else.
"Parents and family can help by watching out for warning signs, treat the distress or suicide thoughts displayed by their young family members seriously, offer emotional support and encourage them to seek professional support."
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours)
E-mail Befriending Service: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tinkle Friend (Singapore Children's Society):
Online chat for primary school children:
Audible Hearts (Health Promotion Board):
Me-to-you Cyber Counselling (Marine Parade Family Service Centre): 6445-0100
Real-time counselling chat room: www.metoyou.org.sg