SINGAPORE: In the wake of a distressing increase in suicide cases, Singapore is witnessing a growing need for volunteers to provide vital emotional support to those in crisis.
Volunteer Lam Li Min, from the Daughters of Tomorrow organization, shared her experience of becoming a lifeline for someone contemplating suicide.
Lam Li Min recounted a critical moment when one of her beneficiaries called in a state of agitation, expressing a desire to end her life due to ongoing interpersonal issues.
“She was ranting and talking very loudly, which was very unlike her as usually, she’s a bit more (calm),” she told CNA.
Lam Li Min’s compassionate intervention, including discussing the welfare of the caller’s daughter, played a pivotal role in averting a potential crisis.
“I tried to calm her down. I asked her questions regarding how she’s feeling at the moment, and about her daughter because she has a daughter whom she loves a lot.”
“I told her maybe she would like to consider what would happen to her daughter.”
Lam Li Min’s experience underscores the significance of empathetic responses in preventing potential suicide cases.
Across Singapore, social service agencies are reporting a surge in such distress calls and messages for help, coinciding with the highest number of suicide cases in more than two decades.
Rising suicide figures
Singapore reported a concerning 476 cases of suicide last year, marking the highest number in over two decades.
The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), a non-profit suicide prevention agency, reported a 25.9% increase from the previous year, with a significant rise among the youth and the elderly.
SOS said that family problems, employment and financial difficulties, as well as romantic relationships, were the most frequently presented problems by people who contacted SOS’ services.
This month in September, there was at least one case reported where a 26-year-old woman was discovered lifeless at the base of a condominium building on Bayshore Road. A resident witnessed her alleged fall from the 25th floor.
Additionally, three more cases were reported in August.
In one of these cases, a neighbor saw a 36-year-old man fall from the 14th floor of Block 516 Jurong West Street 52 on 25 August. Tragically, the man was declared dead upon reaching the ground.
On 27 August, the police found the body of a 24-year-old man in the waters near Keppel Bay, with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) later confirming his death. Just a week earlier, the body of a 50-year-old man was retrieved from the same area on 19 August.
Preliminary investigations for all these cases, as per police reports, have not indicated any suspicion of foul play.
Individuals aged 10 to 29 accounted for more than a quarter of the cases, making suicide the leading cause of death in this age group.
Furthermore, individuals aged 70 to 79 witnessed a staggering 60% increase in suicide deaths compared to the previous year.
The top three issues that elderly people sought help for were medical problems, family difficulties and loneliness, said SOS.
SOS received 57,000 phone calls seeking help last year, a 7% increase from the previous year, while its CareText 24-hours messaging service via WhatsApp received 22,000 text messages, more than double compared to the previous year.
The pressing need for more volunteers and community engagement in suicide prevention has never been more critical.
Urgent call for more volunteers
As the demand for assistance rises, agencies are urgently seeking volunteers to be trained as first responders.
These volunteers can include friends, family members, or even passersby and will play a crucial role in providing early support to those in emotional crisis.
Ms Charlene Heng, Deputy Director of SOS’ training and development, emphasized the need for community involvement, stating that “suicide is everybody’s business.”
“We hope to equip anyone – really literally anyone – with the first responder’s skill so that anyone on the street can be a touchpoint to anyone going through emotional crisis, so that they may not (head to the point of suicide),” she said.
These volunteers will be trained not only to provide emotional support but also to de-escalate situations and connect individuals with relevant aid when necessary.
Volunteers responding to the hotline and messaging service undergo comprehensive training, covering areas such as providing non-judgmental listening, empathetic responses, risk assessment, and confidentiality.
Over the past year, SOS had trained 2,000 individuals to respond to those in need, but there remains a shortage of skills-based volunteers across various domains, including fundraising, human resources, information technology, finance, and organizational development.
Engaging youth for peer support
Another social service agency, TOUCH Community Services, is working to empower young people to support their peers.
Students are trained as peer support leaders in their schools, equipped with essential skills to help their friends in need.
Additionally, the organization conducts sessions on emotional regulation skills and provides a helpline for the general public, staffed by social workers and counsellors.
Ms Lucia Chow, a senior social worker at the charity, highlighted the need to equip the public with the knowledge to recognize signs of distress and engage with those struggling, emphasizing the importance of being a non-judgmental and empathetic listener.
She pointed out that many people want to help but may lack the knowledge to identify signs of issues such as suicidal thoughts or may struggle with how to approach someone in such situations.
“The most basic thing is that you have to be present, let them know that you won’t have any judgmental comments. Let them know that you are a safe person who they can share (their problems with). Sometimes, listening is enough.”
Fighting mental health stigma
Efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues are underway through initiatives like the Beyond the Label program, a national campaign addressing mental health stigma and promoting social inclusion for people with mental health conditions.
While progress has been made in recent years through community education, advocacy, and sharing, stigma remains a significant obstacle that may deter individuals or their families from seeking help.
Various platforms, including email, phone, and social media applications, are available for individuals seeking support.
At the recent “Spark the Change” event, a walkathon and music festival focused on suicide prevention, a passerby approached the agency’s booth to share a touching testimonial.
He revealed that two phone calls to the charity had saved his life when he was grappling with thoughts of suicide.
He said, “I called your hotline twice in my life. I thought I should tell you how important your words are. I wouldn’t be alive (otherwise).”
This heartfelt testimony resonated deeply with SOS, reinforcing their mission to be a lifeline for anyone in crisis.
Ms Heng from SOS emphasized that addressing suicide requires collective effort, stating, “SOS cannot be the only one doing it because we cannot achieve it alone. Everyone has to be a partner in this. Suicide is everybody’s business.”
Where to get help:
Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1767
Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222
Singapore Association for 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.