Elderly suicides in Singapore hit all-time high

Concerns raised as 129 people aged 60 and above took their lives - more than a third of all suicides last year

The number of elderly suicides in Singapore has hit a record high, despite the total number of suicides dropping to its lowest since 2012.

According to suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), 129 people aged 60 and above took their lives last year, making up 35.7 per cent of the 361 suicides in total.

The figure is the highest recorded for this age group since tracking of suicide numbers began in 1991. It becomes more stark if one considers that last year's 361 suicides was 15.8 per cent lower than 2016's 429 and that suicide numbers for all other age groups had fallen. (See table above.)

SOS executive director Christine Wong said: "It is worrying that many of the elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles, when they should be enjoying the lustre of their golden years.

"With the elderly population in Singapore increasing steadily, suicides in this population may be expected to continue rising."

Also worrying is the number of calls made by seniors to the SOS 24-hour hotline showing a drop of 18 per cent to 5,652 last year from 6,904 in 2016.

Ms Wong said: "These figures are a cause for concern, especially when the number of elderly suicides is at a record high.

"We need to find out the barriers that prevent them from getting through to SOS, and if they know where and what are the other available help resources."

Common struggles cited by elderly callers to SOS include loneliness, physical challenges as well as deteriorating mental health.

Madam Hamidah Mohd, 69, said that suicide is often discussed by those around her age.

She told The New Paper: "I had a neighbour who said her life had no meaning because her children refused to visit her.

"She told me she did not have anyone left and saw little point in living when she did not even have enough money for food."

The retiree, who lives in a rental flat, said she has had similar thoughts and tries to focus on other things to keep such thoughts at bay.

"The elderly cannot be left alone, so I adopted a cat to keep myself occupied. When my mind starts to wander to such things, I do things to stop myself from thinking about them."

Mr Yang Mu Yi, 65, a cobbler, said financial struggles are a problem.

"For many elderly people who lack resources and cannot provide for themselves, it may seem better to go," he said.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, a clinical psychologist and counsellor with 25 years' experience, said the trend of seniors contemplating suicide is not new.

"It has been going on for years. The problem is compounded with more and more elderly people now living on their own," she said.

"Some of them think that suicide is the best way to deal with these struggles without becoming a burden to their family."

She added that the social stigma associated with mental illnesses and pride are some of the barriers preventing seniors from seeking help.

SOS figures show that 3,886 elderly women called its hotline last year, more than double the 1,766 elderly male callers.

Dr Balhetchet said this is because women are more likely to reach out for help while men tend to keep to themselves and try to solve their problems alone.

She added: "The elderly tend to have a lot of pride and some would rather die with their pride intact than seek help.

"We need to take more aggressive steps to offer tangible help to them."

She wondered if enough measures are being taken to reach out to the elderly here.

She said: "Singapore is still a place for the young. But who is there looking out for the old?"

  • If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in emotional distress, call SOS' 24-hour hotline on 1800-221-4444.