Adults in their 20s have higher suicidal tendencies due to the stressors in transitional phase of their lives: MOH, MSF, MOE

Pressure to fit into a societal “successful” mold is a cause: Mental health experts

Warning: Mentions suicide

Ministries and mental health experts plan to focus more on young adults in their 20s who face more stressors that lead to suicidal tendencies due to the transitional phase of their lives.

A recent report by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) found that the number of suicides for this demographic remained the highest in 2019 among all age groups.

Last year, 71 people aged between 20 and 29 killed themselves, one-third of all reported deaths in this age group.

Ministries said they keep a close watch on suicide rates in Singapore, noting the reasons why young adults may be a greater risk.

“During the period of youth adulthood from 20 to 29 years, individuals are completing their education, establishing their careers, or starting a family on their own. These transitions through different stages of life can be a time of great stress and flux in a person’s life,” said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a joint statement in response to media queries.

Multiple life transitions can bring about associated psychosocial stressors

The SOS statistics reflect what psychologists have observed in the risk of suicides among adults in their 20s. 

“Individuals in this age group tend to be undergoing multiple life transitions that can bring about associated psychosocial stressors,” said Dr Tracie Lazaroo, a clinical psychologist from Inner Light Psychological Services and LP Clinic.

“This can lead to an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety, especially within a culture where help-seeking for mental health issues is not common practice.”

In response to media queries, SOS said that common stressors faced by this demographic include relationship issues – including family, friendships and romantic relationships – as well as mental health issues. 

“As those in their 20s are in the midst of developing their sense of identity, their social relationships play “a significant role as a protective factor to how one copes with life’s challenges”, said SOS chief executive Gasper Tan. Therefore disagreements in these “significant relationships” can be “unsettling”, he added.

Pressure to fit into a societal “successful” mould

The belief that this demographic needs to be “readily adaptable” and “capable in different areas of responsibility” is a possible factor of anxiety or fear in them, Mr Tan said.

“The societal expectations of what success looks like often shapes how an individual measures achievements in various aspects of life such as career progression, educational achievements and romantic relationships.”

“Furthermore, as youths may tie their self-worth according to what may be most prevalent in the life stage they are currently in, failing to attain their desired outcome may aggravate feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in times of crisis,” said Mr Tan.

Young adults might also compare themselves to peers as an “indicator of how well they are doing”, said Dr Lazaroo.

“In the last decade, social media has had an influence on how young adults perceive themselves in relation to others. This creates an environment that invites constant comparison with others that may not be necessary or healthy,” she said.

Associate Professor Swapna Verma, senior consultant and chief of the department of psychosis at the Institute of Mental Health, added that impulsivity could play a role in suicide attempts.

“In young persons, the brain is still developing, and the centres that regulate decision-making and self-control are not fully developed until the age of about 25. Thus, people in this age group tend to be more impulsive compared to other stages of their life,” Assoc Prof Verma said.

“Impulsivity, when coupled with the stressors they already face, may make them more likely to act on their suicidal thoughts and contribute to suicidal attempts.”

Gov’t ministries keeping a close watch on this concerning trend

MSF, MOH and MOE said they keep a “close watch” on suicide rates in Singapore, and implement various programmes to address mental well-being among young people. 

As the underlying causes of suicide are complex, the ministries said they take a “multi-pronged approach” which includes building resilience, reducing stigma, as well as identifying and supporting those at risk of suicide.

In mainstream schools, the Character and Citizenship Education lessons will be revised next year to focus on mental health education. Students will be taught how to recognise common mental health issues and symptoms. They will also be educated on when and how to seek help.

“Similarly, the IHLs (institutes of higher learning) have curricular and co-curricular mental wellness programmes and activities for students, which incorporate mental wellness literacy or awareness talks and workshops,” said the ministries.

“Most mainstream schools and IHLs also have peer support efforts to encourage students to look out for one another, and encourage a peer in distress to seek help from trusted adults, parents, teachers or counsellors. We are on track to have a peer support structure and culture in place in all schools by 2022.”

The ministries added that they will be partnering with multiple government agencies and community partners to enhance their efforts. 

One programme is the Youth Mental Well-being Network created in February, supported by MOH, MOE and MSF, to build on the work of agencies and ground-up community groups to “strengthen our ecosystem of support,” said the ministries.

This is on top of efforts by social service agencies like the Singapore Association for Mental Health, TOUCH Community Services and Fei Yue Community Services which offer helplines and counselling to support those in need.

“Without the necessary coping skills and support to navigate crises, failures and setbacks, some may develop feelings of hopelessness and pessimism that can culminate in suicidal attempts.”

“Raising awareness and reducing the stigma of mental health issues are critical to encourage and normalise help-seeking behaviour,” said the ministries. “Early detection and intervention are key, and people struggling with emotional problems, mental health issues or suicidal thoughts should be encouraged to seek help.”

[25 Aug] Editor’s Note: The quotes in this article are cited from Channel News Asia’s article (Authorities keep ‘close watch on suicide rates as experts lay out risk factors for young adults, 21 Aug).

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