The number of elderly aged 60 and above who took their own lives is “extremely” worrying as it rose to its highest since 1991, with 154 deaths last year and a 26 per cent increase from 2019, said non-profit suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) on Thursday (8 July).
In a statement earlier today, SOS revealed that Singapore’s suicide rate increased from 400 suicide cases in 2019 to 452 reported last year, the highest recorded figure since 2012.
Overall, the suicide rate rose to 8.88 for every 100,000 Singapore residents, up by 0.88 as compared to 2019.
Suicide deaths for youths aged 10 to 29, as well as middle-aged adults between 30 and 59 years old, increased by 7 per cent from 2019, said SOS.
SOS chief executive officer Gasper Tan noted that the COVID-19 pandemic 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 period, the elderly were 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,” he asserted.
Despite the spike in the number of suicide deaths by the elderly last year, SOS noted that it observed a drop in the number of calls made by this group to the 24-hour Hotline.
It received 4,455 calls from the elderly between April last year and March this year, down from 4,816 in the year before.
SOS reported that the issues faced by these callers include difficulty coping with loneliness and inactivity due to isolation, psychological distress and impaired social and family relationships.
Commenting on the matter, Adjunct Associate Professor Lee Cheng, Clinical Director, Office of Population Health from Institute of Mental Health highlighted that some of the elderly are living alone and have lack of support to cope with the pandemic.
“For example, while they wish to comply with the call by the government to stay at home as much as possible, they may still have to go out to get their necessities. Those who are used to attending social activities outside on a regular basis will also likely feel socially isolated during this period,” he said.
Associate Professor Helen Ko, who teaches Master and PhD in Gerontology programmes at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, pointed out the importance to find as many ways as possible to connect with the elderly who are 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 said. “For those who are not digitally savvy, please be very patient as they may need more time to pick up digital skills.”
Meanwhile, SOS also announced that it will launch the new national four-digit hotline at 1-767 on 26 July, which will make help-seeking easier and more convenient when in need.
The old hotline number, 1800-221-4444, will remain operational even after the four-digit hotline is launched, and both numbers will be toll-free.