Elderly suicide rate hits record high in Singapore

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

The suicide rate for the nation’s elderly citizens reached a record high in 2017, according to a new report by suicide prevention agency, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).

The number of individuals aged 60 and older who died from suicide last year was 129, the highest amount recorded, alarming both researchers and healthcare providers.

“These figures are a cause for concern,” said Christine Wong, Executive Director of SOS. “It is very worrying that many elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles when they should be enjoying their luster of the golden years.”

The trend among senior citizens is especially shocking given that suicides in the nation as a whole have been going down. In 2017, there were 361 suicides reported in all of Singapore, the lowest since 2012. The overall suicide rate is declining too, down from 9.14 deaths by suicide per 100,000 residents to 7.74 per 100,000 in 2017.

But the latest numbers show that elderly suicides are going in the opposite direction, jumping by 123 percent between 2011 and 2017.

Experts say that a variety of factors contribute to seniors’ increased risk for suicide. In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that loneliness, increased physical challenges due to aging, and the fear of burdening loved ones weigh heavily on this population.

In addition, SOS’s own data suggest that elders are not using their phone helpline as much as they used to in past years.

Calls made by the elderly dropped 6,904 calls in 2016 to 5,652 calls in 2017. That’s an 18 percent decrease, and it coincides with this year’s rise in deaths from suicide. This suggests that increasing outreach could help this population realize they have options and in turn provide the necessary support to save lives.

“We need to find out the barriers that prevent them from getting through to SOS, and if they know where and what are the other available resources to seek help” said Wong.

If you or someone you know is facing a crisis, please visit Samaritans of Singapore’s Get Help guide for a list of things you can do immediately or call their 24-hour hotline, 1-800-221 4444.

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