Singapore’s elderly suicides peak as population ages
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Singapore’s elderly suicides peak as population ages

DESPITE the sharp decline of people taking their own lives in Singapore last year, the number of suicide cases among elderly people in the city-state has hit at an all-time high.

The latest government statistics given to Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), a non-profit organisation show that over a third of the nation’s suicides last year comprised those in their golden years, with counsellors suggesting there is a lapse insufficient support for the elder population.

Of the 361 cases reported last year, 129 involved the senior citizens above 60 although the total figure was 15.8 percent lower than the 429 in 2016, according to the Straits Times.

Typically, the cases in the senior age group ranged between 25 and 30 percent annually but last year’s figure reached 35.7 percent.

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“It is very worrying that many of the elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles when they should be enjoying the lustre of their golden years,” Christine Wong, executive director of SOS, was quoted as saying.

“With the elderly population in Singapore increasing steadily, suicides in this population may be expected to continue rising.”

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An elderly man is wheeled across a pedestrian crossing in Singapore Jan 16, 2018. Source: Reuters

SOS, which functions as a suicide prevention agency, also recorded a drop in calls made by seniors, dipping 18 percent to 5,652 in 2017 from the 6,904 made in 2016.

“We need to find out the barriers that prevent them from getting through to SOS, and if they know where and what are the other available help resources,” Wong said.

Social isolation and family burden

Dr Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore sociologist said the profile of an elderly suicidal person was typically aged 75 or above, living alone or with a spouse, and with only primary school education.

Tan told Channel News Asia said the seniors may see life as “empty and meaningless”, while terminal illness and a lack of social support as major factors for suicide.

Asked why less elderly people were seeking help from suicide prevention hotlines, Dr Tan many were not comfortable sharing their “innermost thoughts with others or seeking help through a hotline to speak to a stranger”.

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“They are also thinking that no one could understand them and their situation, let alone help them,” he said.

“They are probably living in isolation, have few or no friends, know only people who are just as ignorant about other forms of help, or do not see non-kin as a possible source of help,” Dr Tan added.

Tan added family members who “caring, supportive and attentive” could also be a form of alternative assistance.

Often times, the elderly were prone to deteriorating mental health, felt they were a burden to their families, and faced physical challenges, according to SOS.

“These concerns predisposes socially isolated elderly to depression and suicidal thoughts when struggles go undetected and unaddressed,” it said.