13% increase in suicides reported in 2020, highest number of elderly suicides in S'pore since 1991

Indicative of the pandemic's toll on the nation's mental health.

Zi Shan Kow | July 08, 2021, 01:04 PM

In 2020, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) found a 13 per cent increase in number of suicides, with the number of suicides rising from 400 to 452.

This is the highest number of suicides recorded since 2012.

This increase was observed in all age groups, with a 7 per cent increase in number of suicides for youths aged 10 to 29 years old and middle-aged adults aged 30 to 59 years old.

The number of elderly, age 60 and above, who took their own lives was the highest since 1991.

The 154 deaths was a 26 per cent increase from 2019.

While there were a higher number of suicides, there was a small drop in the number of calls made by the elderly to the SOS 24-hour Hotline from 4,816 in 2019 to 4,455 in 2020.

Among those who revealed their age, calls made by the elderly in 2020 dropped from 20 per cent to 17 per cent.

SOS recognises that among those with suicidal ideations, there are still many who are hesitant and fearful of reaching out for help.

COVID-19 has severely affected the nation’s mental health

SOS attended to 39,779 calls through its 24-hour Hotline in 2020.

The most prominent issues faced by hotline callers include difficulty in coping with loneliness and inactivity due to isolation, psychological distress, and impaired social and family relationships.

Chief Executive of SOS Gasper Tan said, “Since the pandemic, many in-person activities and initiatives for the elderly have moved digitally. Those with limited proficiency with technology may find themselves lost and helpless."

"We are extremely worried about how our elderly are coping during this public health crisis. During the pandemic period, the elderly were more likely to face social isolation and financial worries," Tan added.

Helen Ko, who teaches Master and PhD in Gerontology programmes at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, encourages Singaporeans to reach out to their loved ones.

“For the elderly who are lonely and socially isolated, find as many ways as possible to connect with them. Very often, most elderly persons want to hear a human voice and they long to hear the familiar voice of a loved one,” Ko remarked.

Tan shared that SOS will "continue to build on existing efforts and find new ways to support the mental health of the elderly", and "seeks to collaborate in more partnerships with the community to support the elderly."

Change in 24-hour Hotline number

From July 26 onwards, the public can reach the SOS Hotline more easily by dialling 1-767 (1-SOS).

Tan shared that "there are still many in the community who are unaware of the existing avenues for help seeking," and that "with the shortening of the hotline number, 1-767 will be easier to recall for those overwhelmed and in crisis.”

The 24-hour Hotline will remain toll-free, and the 1800-221-4444 number is still in use.

SOS Services

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is a secular, non-profit suicide prevention centre.

All information shared with SOS is treated as confidential and people can choose to remain anonymous.

24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444

Email: SOS Caremail

Text: SOS Care Text

Other helplines

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Institute of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

AWARE Women's Helpline: 1800-777-555 (10am - 6pm, Monday to Friday)

Top photo via Getty Images