0811 GMT September 23, 2019
Figures provided by non-profit suicide prevention center Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) showed that the number of elderly people aged 60 and above who took their own lives in 2017, shot up to 129 — an increase from the 123 cases in 2016, todayonline.com reported.
It comes as the total number of suicides dropped to 361 in 2017, from 429 the year before.
Last year’s number was the lowest since 2012, when the number of suicides reached an all-time high of 467.
Between 2012 and 2016, the average suicide rate was 9.14 per 100,000 residents but this dipped to an all-time low of 7.74 per 100,000 residents in 2017, according to SOS.
The new record high of elderly suicides has sparked concern among counsellors, who cited loneliness, lack of awareness on help resources as well as the inability of workers providing eldercare services to detect emotional distress as key reasons why the number of such cases is growing.
According to SOS, 23 percent of the calls made to its 24-hour hotline service last year are by those aged 60 and above, and common issues highlighted by these callers include the fear of becoming a burden to family and friends as well as their difficulties coping with their worsening physical or mental health.
These factors could cause the elderly, more so those who are socially isolated, to suffer from depression and entertain suicidal thoughts. The SOS did not state the number of calls made by people in the age group for the year 2016.
Executive director of SOS Christine Wong expressed worry that “many elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles” when they should be enjoying their golden years.
With the proportion of elderly Singapore residents who live alone set to increase, she noted that there is an “imminent need” for strong support networks and to raise awareness on the help resources that they can turn to.
“When the elderly are less aware of the available resources that they can approach, they may feel a strong sense of helplessness which may exacerbate social isolation,” said Wong.
Wang Jing, assistant director of counselling and coaching at Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, noted that having elderly care services that cover a range of issues affecting both physical and mental well-being of the elderly could help prevent suicides.
Currently, services providers for the elderly tend to be too focused on their specific areas of expertise, she added. For instance, workers providing physiotherapy will pay more attention to the physical needs of the elderly, and might miss or overlook symptoms of emotional distress.
Wang also highlighted the need to better study the issue of social isolation affecting the elderly so that early intervention can take place, adding that the issue does not just affect those living alone, but elderly people living with their families.
“Even those who live with their families can feel lonely and bereft of support… (and these) can trigger thoughts of suicide as a means to an end,” she added.