Suicide rate among seniors hits 29-year high last year: SOS
SOS 'extremely worried' about how seniors are coping during pandemic, launches new 'convenient' hotline
Social isolation, financial worries and difficulty in constantly adapting to changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic are some possible reasons that the number of reported suicide deaths among those aged 60 and above has hit a 29-year high.
Latest figures from the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) showed there were 154 suicide deaths in this age group last year, a 26 per cent increase from 2019.
The figure is the highest for this age group since 1991, the year SOS started tracking suicide statistics.
SOS chief executive Gasper Tan said: "Covid-19 has severely affected the nation's economy, lifestyle and mental health. We are extremely worried about how our elderly are coping during this public health crisis.
"During the pandemic, the elderly are more likely to face social isolation and financial worries.
"Difficulty in constantly adapting to changes as well as prolonged feelings of loneliness may be devastating."
SOS also recorded 452 reported suicides in Singapore last year, the highest figure since 2012.
This was a 13 per cent increase compared with the 400 cases in 2019, said the non-profit suicide prevention centre in a statement yesterday.
It added that the increase in suicide deaths was observed across all age groups.
Despite an increase in the number of suicide deaths among seniors last year, SOS said it received fewer calls on its 24-hour hotline from this group of people.
In the 2020 financial year from April 2020 to March 2021, 4,455 calls were made, down from 4,816 calls in the 2019 financial year.
From July 26, those who need emotional support may call SOS on its new four-digit hotline at 1-767 (1-SOS). SOS said the shortened hotline will make it more convenient to seek help. The public can still reach SOS at 1800-221-4444.
Mr Anthony Tay, chairman of Lion Befrienders, a social service agency that serves mostly seniors who have little or no family support, told The New Paper it was alerted to four cases of suicide attempts during the nearly two-month long circuit breaker period last year, up from the average of one suicide attempt every three to six months prior to Covid-19.
"Despite the number being small compared with the 7,600 seniors we serve, this indicated a declining state of mental and emotional health for some seniors," he said. "Many seniors, including those under our care, have wrestled with the effects of prolonged social isolation.
"This places them at a greater risk of... anxiety, depression and emotional issues. All these could adversely affect the seniors' mental well-being and lead to suicidal thoughts."
The Institute of Mental Health's clinical director in the office of population health, Adjunct Associate Professor Lee Cheng, said seniors who live alone may lack the support needed to cope with the pandemic.
"Those who are used to attending social activities outside on a regular basis will also likely feel socially isolated during this period," he added.
Singapore University of Social Sciences' Associate Professor of Gerontology Helen Ko said it is important to find ways to connect with seniors who feel lonely and socially isolated.
"Very often, most elderly persons want to hear a human voice and they long to hear the familiar voice of a loved one," she added.
In response to further queries by TNP, Mr Tan said despite "a new raft of stressors" brought on by the virus, SOS cannot directly attribute the impact on suicide to the pandemic.
He added that the impact of the pandemic is varied as it may amplify stress for some but not for others.
Moving forward, Mr Tan told TNP: "While it is unknown how suicide rates will be affected (as Covid-19 becomes endemic), what we can do as a community is to provide support to one another through the transitions that will happen, to maintain social connections, routines and to be proactive in reaching out to people around us."
National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser told TNP that while some suicide deaths of seniors could be because of social isolation and financial woes exacerbated by the pandemic, other reasons could be chronic health problems, relationship problems with children or being on the receiving end of domestic violence or neglect.
"Many of the problems afflicting the elderly could be independent of the pandemic. The pandemic merely exacerbates their problems," he added.
Samaritans Of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (or 1-767 (1-SOS) from July 26)
Singapore Association For Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute Of Mental Health: 6389-2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788
SOS chief executive Gasper Tan lists some warning signs of suicide:
● “My family will be better off without me.”
● “My life is meaningless anyway.”
● “If you don’t love me, I will kill myself.”
● Giving away treasured possessions and saying goodbye
● Researching suicide methods
● Writing suicide notes (including e-mails/diaries/blogs)
● Emotional outbursts (anger, sadness, irritability, recklessness)
● Loss of interest
● Humiliation or anxiety