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Family issues top problems faced by suicidal youths

Suicide among youths aged below 30 accounted for 24 per cent of all suicides in 2013, and the Samaritans of Singapore say family relationship issues are among the most common problems seen among those in this demographic.

SINGAPORE: Fewer suicides were registered in Singapore last year, according to a report by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) released on Wednesday (July 30).

A total of 422 people committed suicide in 2013, 10 per cent lower than the 467 registered in 2012. The national suicide rate declined from 10.27 per 100,000 resident population in 2012 to 9.29 in 2013. In the last 10 years, the total number of suicides averaged at 395 while the suicide rate averaged at 9.28.)

But the suicide rate among youths - those below 30 - rose. About 24 per cent of all suicides last year involved youths, up from the 10-year average of 20 per cent. Family issues, problems in relationships and depressions were the top three issues faced by suicidal youths in Singapore, according to the SOS.

"GENERAL DISCONNECT" BETWEEN YOUTHS AND FAMILIES

SOS said that between April 2013 and March 2014, 45 per cent of the 168 people who went for crisis counselling at SOS were aged 30 and below. Issues regarding family relationships were among the top three problems presented by this demographic group, along with depression and boy-girl relationship issues, it said.

Of the 420 people who used its email befriending service and revealed their ages, 80 per cent were 30 and below, SOS said. Over half of the suicidal youths who emailed SOS were distressed by family relationships.

"Our interaction with these suicidal youths highlighted a general disconnect between them and their families. There appears to be a lack of effective communication and understanding between family members," said Ms Christine Wong, Executive Director at SOS.

The non-profit suicide prevention centre said there may be various factors contributing to this gap, as both youths and parents navigate new demands and different expectations. These challenges include finding unhurried, uninterrupted time to nurture family relationships, and how youths are more comfortable using online or virtual platforms to communicate rather than conversing face-to-face. Youths "often use a lingo which their parents may not be familiar with", SOS said.

These challenges, in turn, mean the youths would find it hard to seek support from their families when they face difficulties coping with issues. The lack of family support can increase the sense of isolation and helplessness when the youths are experiencing problems, the centre added.

“Youth suicides come at a great cost to families and society as youths are in the most productive years of their lives. Greater efforts need to be directed towards identifying youths who are going through a crisis,” said Ms Wong.

To build healthy communication with family members, Dr Adrian Wang, consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, said it was important to spend time together. “It can be a simple thing like sitting together during dinner time. We live in such a competitive, fast-paced society, people just do their own thing all the time. The other big issue is smartphones and smart devices - families need to make a rule where you put that phone down and look at each other in the eye and speak."

Dr Wang also advised that families need to be less judgmental. "Don't be so quick to assume that somebody who is keeping quiet, who is slacking or not doing well is just being lazy or disrespectful. Somebody who is not talking or not engaging could be suffering in a world of his own. So don't be so quick to criticize. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and reach out."

HELPLINES

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019
  • Family Service Centre: 1800 838 0100
  • Seniors Helpline (for the elderly): 1800 555 5555
  • Touchline (for youths): 1800 377 2252
  • Tinkle Friend (for children): 1800 274 4788 (weekdays only)

WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE

SOS also provided certain pointers and indicators on when someone is thinking of committing suicide. These are:

Emotional or Behavioural Changes

  • Dramatic changes in mood
  • Intense feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Intense rage or anger
  • Feeling psychologically and emotionally trapped
  • Unusual behavioural changes
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities
  • Increasing or abusive consumption of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing from family, friends or society
  • Unusual sleeping patterns

Verbal Warning Signs

  • Expressions such as "Life is too painful for me"
  • Bidding farewell - for example, "Take care when I'm gone"
  • Threats such as "If you don't love me, I will kill myself"

Pre-suicide Planning

  • Tidying up one's affairs
  • Giving away treasured things and saying goodbye
  • Writing suicide notes, emails or blogposts
  • Checking out methods of dying

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