Downturn prompts suicide fears

A CIVIC group that provides crisis counselling for potential suicides in Singapore is now turning its attention to working adults who are increasingly stressed out due to the gloomy economy. 

Singaporeans aged between 20 and 49 years made up the bulk of suicide cases from 1997 to 2001, said a spokesman for Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), a 34-year-old organisation staffed mostly by volunteers. 

The latest figures available from Singapore's Registry of Births and Deaths show that almost 70% of suicides in 2001 were from that age group. 

They also constitute more than 65% of suicide attempts referred by the police, and more than 71% of those referred to SOS by hospitals. 

“This is the age group where you have a lot of stress, as you are forming your families, making financial commitments, having stress at work, caring for the elderly and the children at home,” SOS spokesman Susan Lim said. 

With the jobless rate at about five per cent – more than double the previous levels in a society used to virtually full employment – and personal bankruptcies also on the rise, SOS has seen a surge in the number of people calling their 24-hour hotline to seek counselling for their financial woes. 

“We don't have exact numbers, but more people are now calling in with anxieties over retrenchment and friction in their relationships and within families over financial stress,” said Lim, who added that the centre has received an average of 124 calls daily over the past year. 

SOS hosts an annual Suicide Prevention Week to help raise public awareness on the warning signs of suicide and factors that increase the risk of killing oneself. 

This year's campaign was launched over the weekend and will be targeted at working adults instead of the youth and elderly for the first time since the awareness programme started in 1994. 

“We actually go by the kind of calls we had. In the past, it was more youths calling and we had a high rate of elderly suicides. But since last year, with the economy being so bad, we are getting more calls about job security and economic uncertainty,” said Lim. 

Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan, who launched the campaign on Saturday, said that on the average, one person takes his life every day in Singapore. 

“The recent SARS outbreak as well as the current global and local economic uncertainties continue to impact working adults and their families in devastating ways and add to feelings of anxiety and depression and that in turns affect relationships within the family,” he said. 

“It is during these times that emotional support for the individual in crisis is crucial,” Mah added. 

Elderly people, aged 65 and above, previously accounted for a disproportionately high share of suicides. 

Their suicide rate is now at a 10-year low, from 40.1 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 17.8 in 2000. – AFP  

For another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network, click here.

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