The government should take action now in developing a National Suicide Prevention Strategy which aims for a “Zero-Suicide Singapore” to tackle with the rising numbers of suicide cases in the country, said Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong in Parliament on Wednesday (25 March).
Noting the numbers of cases are not high by international standards which may be argued by some people, Ms Ong stressed that the government is “not doing enough” as the death cases due to suicide has not relatively changed from 9.5 suicides per 100,000 residents in the 1980s to 8.3 suicides per 100,000 residents today.
She also pointed out that teenage suicides in the country recorded a high rate in 2018, which is the highest since suicide tracking started in 1991 while adding that the number of suicide cases might be higher given issues of underreporting.
“One large reason might be the disappointing fact that Singapore was not listed as one of the few ‘high income’ countries with a national suicide prevention strategy even though we are a member state of World Health Organization (WHO) – because we don’t have one!” said Ms Ong.
Fundamental for govt to take the lead and coordinate efforts in suicide prevention
By initiating a national strategy to show the government’s priority to tackle suicides, Ms Ong said, “It is fundamental for the government to lead and coordinate efforts in suicide prevention.”
She then suggested the government to expand funding for organisations such as Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) to operate a de-facto national suicide helpline, ensure timely follow-ups with callers who need further support as well as consider increasing resources and funding for mental healthcare services to address wait time and patient load issues.
Citing that 83 percent of people visited some kind of doctor a year before their death of suicide, Ms Ong said, “I am deeply alarmed that our public hospitals do not track whether an admission is due to attempted suicide.”
Hence, she said, “Healthcare facilities, especially emergency departments, are a logical place to prevent suicide.
“By getting our hospitals to track suicide attempts, our national strategy is better placed to coordinate the continuity of care for these suicide attempters,” she added.
Addressing the limited ability of the government in developing informed strategies without data surveillance of attempted suicides, Ms Ong suggested for the government to work on data surveillance coordinated across government agencies and community partners as well as a robust framework of monitoring and evaluation.
Besides that, she also urged the government to put in place a clear and strong suicide prevention and post-suicide intervention guidelines in schools by laying out a clear suicide protocols to parents and students as an effort to confront the spike in teenage suicides.
As people are unclear about the warning signs of suicide, Ms Ong proposed public education programmes on suicide prevention 101 to be in place in schools, workplaces and communities.
She added that the key “gatekeepers” such as police, teachers, and grassroots leaders can engage in suicide first-responder training, allowing them to intervene appropriately for suicide attempts.
She said, “Community support groups with the SOS as the first community responder, Please Stay and new groups like Caring for Life are key stakeholders in this whole-of-society effort to reduce and prevent suicides.
“However, without a national strategy for these efforts to align to, we risk having a fragmented and sub-optimal approach to supporting survivors and bereaved families,” she added.