Male teen suicides hit record high
Suicides among men, which account for seven in 10 cases, a 'significant societal concern', says SOS
Suicide among young people and men is a "significant societal concern", warned suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) yesterday.
Notably, the number of teenage boys who took their own lives last year hit a record high of 19 - the most since tracking of suicide figures began in 1991.
This is about a quarter of all deaths in this age group of 10 to 19 years, based on Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) records.
There were seven suicides of teen boys in 2017 and 14 in 2016.
In comparison, there were three female teen suicides last year, down from five in 2017 and eight in 2016.
The SOS noted that suicide remains the leading cause of death among young people aged from 10 to 29, with 94 of them taking their own lives last year.
This means for every 10 young people who died from external causes, about six were due to suicide.
Of the 94 deaths, 73 were men, outnumbering the 21 women by almost 3.5 to one.
The total number of suicides went up by about 10 per cent, from a five-year low of 361 cases in 2017 to 397 last year.
An earlier ICA report broke down the 397 cases to 283 men and 114 women, which means men accounted for seven of every 10 suicides.
The number of suicides rose across all age groups last year, except for those aged 60 and above, which fell to 115 cases from a record high of 129 in 2017. The suicide rate also rose from 7.74 per 100,000 Singapore residents to 8.36.
SOS senior assistant director Wong Lai Chun told The New Paper that young people often cite being overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, which can be made worse by a perceived lack of trust in adults.
For teens yet to develop adequate coping mechanisms and are unaware of available resources, self-harm and suicide become possible options to deal with emotional pain, she said.
"Coupled with the pressure to conform to a masculine stereotypical role that emphasises greater levels of strength, tolerance and independence, the continual pressure to solve issues on their own may prevent male teens from expressing emotional issues with their loved ones or to seek help when faced with a crisis," she said.
The SOS found that among those who revealed their age and sex when calling its 24-hour helpline, only 30 per cent were male teens.
Similarly, while more than 78 per cent of those who wrote to its e-mail befriending service were young people, teenage boys made up just 27 per cent.
Ms Wong said: "Men and women alike need to know that it is okay to be less than perfect, and we need to educate the public to understand that a supportive and encouraging environment is far more beneficial."
Private counsellor James Leong of Listen Without Prejudice said that while the male suicide figures are alarming, he sees silver linings.
He said that SOS, in its last fiscal year ending in March, saw a 56 per cent rise in the number of young people who used its e-mail befriending service, which is a healthy sign.
"There is something constructive here, it is not just doom and gloom. Our young people are now less afraid about seeking professional help.
"The question is how we can support them at their most vulnerable but most courageous."
Dr Ong Say How, who heads the Institute of Mental Health's Department of Developmental Psychiatry, said teens nowadays face higher expectations at home, in peer groups, on social media and in school.
"While it can be especially hard when there are no warning signs, parents need to be aware of major events happening in their children's lives," Dr Ong said. "No feeling is too small to talk or discuss, and certainly should not be dismissed or brushed aside."
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788