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Suicide stigma: How a new recovery support group is helping youths overcome it

Samaritans of Singapore aims to provide a platform for those with suicidal thoughts to share their stories

The Samaritans of Singapore said that there has been a concerning increase in the number of at-risk youths, with a 23.3 per cent increase in suicides among individuals aged 10-19 in 2021
The Samaritans of Singapore said that there has been a concerning increase in the number of at-risk youths, with a 23.3 per cent increase in suicides among individuals aged 10-19 in 2021. (PHOTO: Getty Images/istockphoto)

SINGAPORE — The desire to die by suicide can be hard to comprehend - and sometimes people are at a loss for what to do to help.

The taboo topic still has a stigma and a lack of understanding, rendering family and friends helpless and unaware, according to the charity for suicide prevention Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).

According to SOS, a total of 378 people committed suicide in the country in 2021, with the proportion highest among people aged between 10 and 29.

The need to reduce suicide stigma

SOS launched a new suicide recovery group called "Light in the Dark" in July last year, to provide additional support to young people.

The support group meets every Wednesday. About eight to 15 members attend, and it provides a platform for people with suicidal thoughts or a history of suicide attempts to share their stories.

The group is currently in its second run, following a pilot last year, and is set to run regularly going forward.

According to Shawn Lai, senior counsellor at SOS who runs the group, the aim is to also teach people coping strategies to deal with suicidal ideation or crisis. A person with suicidal ideation regularly thinks about how to end their life.

"It is really for them to support each other in their journey and really de-stigmatise suicide but also having a safe space for them to get support," he said.

"We realised the common theme that comes up is many of them talk about being alone, struggling with stigma and not feeling that others understand what they are going through."

People between the ages of 10 and 19 tend to have developmental issues, such as body image issues, wanting acceptance, and wanting to belong.

In recent years, the influence of trauma has increasingly become a primary concern among young people.

"Many do share with us instances where they felt bullied in school, they felt that nobody really knows where they are coming from. So there is this desire and yearning for acknowledgement and acceptance," Lai said.

Growing concern regarding scams

Lai, who has been counselling for seven years, said scams are also a newfound concern.

"Scams are for more of the older population," he said. "Usually, they are the recipients or even love scams, especially with the rise of dating apps. We do receive young people using gaming apps or platforms, like Discord."

In one case, he shared how a client owed a tremendous amount to money lenders after being a victim in a love scam. The client was so stressed that the client had considered suicide and contacted SOS for help.

Gasper Tan, chief executive of SOS, told Yahoo News Singapore that since March last year to January, SOS has tracked 82 potential scam cases, with close to 30 per cent of those at risk of suicidal behaviour.

Some clients are unclear, he said, but some are direct and share that they have been scammed.

"Previously, we did not really track scams because people did not inform us of them, but once the scams thing started, we noticed that many clients were having issues with it," Tan said.

Besides providing a 24-hour hotline and CareText WhatsApp service, SOS also has a team of 20 crisis support staff who work together to support high-risk cases very late at night when most social services are closed.

In September last year, 82 per cent of the charity's clients were aged 29 or under, highlighting the need to assist these youths.

Those who do not feel comfortable sharing their experiences over the phone can also use CareText, a service introduced in 2020 to supplement the hotline. A total of 11,107 people used the 24-hour care text service in 2022.

According to Tan, there is much work left to do in terms of raising awareness since some individuals are still unwilling to share their pain.

"There are encouraging signs that people are now seeking help, but I think there are a lot more we can do to de-stigmatise suicide," he said

"(If) you want to end your life, and you want to talk to someone. It's ok to share, and the society must be able to embrace that and encourage the person to seek help and not discriminate against them."

A total of 11,107 people used the 24-hour care text service in 2022, according to Samaritans of Singapore.
A total of 11,107 people used the 24-hour care text service in 2022, according to Samaritans of Singapore. (PHOTO: Getty)

If you have thoughts of suicide or are feeling distressed, you can call the Samaritans of Singapore's 24-hour hotline at 1767. You can also email pat@sos.org.sg.

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