SINGAPORE: Singapore reported 452 suicides last year, the nation's highest count since 2012, amid the isolation and psychological distress brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year's case count was a 13 per cent increase from the 400 cases recorded in 2019, according to data released by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) on Thursday (Jul 8).
The increase was observed across all age groups but in particular the elderly, which recorded the highest number of suicides since 1991.
Among people aged 60 and above, a total of 154 took their own lives. This was a 26 per cent increase from 2019.
In the other age groups - youths aged 10 to 29 and adults aged 30 to 59 - the number of suicides rose by 7 per cent from 2019.
Overall, the number of suicide deaths rose to 8.88 per 100,000 residents, up by 0.88 when compared to 2019.
"COVID-19 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," said SOS chief executive Gasper Tan.
ELDERLY IN DISTRESS
During the pandemic, the elderly are more likely to face social isolation and financial worries, said Mr Tan.
They may also face difficulties with constantly adapting to changes and prolonged feelings of loneliness, which may be "devastating", he said.
Despite the higher number of elderly suicides, SOS saw a fall in the number of calls it received from this group through its 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.
There were 4,455 calls to the hotline from the elderly last year, compared to 4,816 calls in 2019.
Among those who revealed their age, 17 per cent of all calls were made by those aged 60 and above in the financial year 2020, compared to 20 per cent in the previous financial year.
FIND WAYS TO CONNECT
Callers faced difficulties in coping with loneliness and inactivity due to isolation, psychological distress, and impaired social and family relationships, said SOS.
Some elderly people live alone and lack the support to cope with the pandemic, said Adjunct Associate Professor Lee Cheng, clinical director at the Institute of Mental Health's Office of Population Health.
READ: The rise of mental health awareness – and the stigma that remains attached to certain conditions
"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.
As many in-person activities for the elderly have gone digital since the pandemic, those with limited proficiency at technology may find themselves "lost and helpless", said SOS' Mr Tan.
"Given the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last, it is imperative that we continue to build on existing efforts and find new ways to support the mental health of the elderly," he said.
People should find as many ways as possible to connect with the elderly who are lonely and socially isolated, said Associated Professor Helen Ko, who teaches gerontology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.
"Very often, most elderly persons want to hear a human voice and they long to hear the familiar voice of a loved one. For those who are not digitally savvy, please be very patient as they may need more time to pick up digital skills," she said.
DIAL 1-767 FOR HELP
From Jul 26, the public will be able to reach SOS' 24-hour hotline through a new four-digit number, 1-767 (1-SOS), the organisation announced.
Many people who have suicide ideations remain hesitant and fearful of reaching out for help, noted SOS, which attended to a total of 39,779 calls in the last financial year.
The shortened number is intended to be easier for those who are feeling overwhelmed and in crisis to recall, said Mr Tan.
The hotline will remain toll-free and can also be reached at the existing number, 1800 221 4444.
"The acknowledgment as a special service in the community and the assignment of the new four-digit short code marks a humbling milestone for SOS," said the organisation.
Where to get help:
Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1800 221 4444
Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222
Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019
You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.