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Friday April 25th 2014

Why Do Singaporeans Commit Suicide?

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared here on 1 Dec 2010 and was brought back due to the recent spike of suicides in Singapore. If you are depressed and harboured suicidal thoughts, please email me at gilbert@transitioning.org. We have a team of qualified dedicated counsellors ready to help you out. Taking your own life does not solve  any of your problems, in fact, it leaves behind a trail of misery and guilt for your loved ones. So seek help now!

Written by: Gilbert Goh

Two recent newspaper reports caught my attention: one was the good news that Singapore’s monthly median income  rose to $2710 – an increase of 4.2% compared to the previous year of 0.5%.

Another eye-catching news was a suicide that took place on the Queenstown MRT track. Apparently, a man in his 40s has jumped to the track at around 8.15pm causing massive disruption to the west-bound  train services between Outram Park and Jurong East MRT stations.

There is this persistent online rumour that gambling debt has forced the man to take his own life. This is however unsubstantiated but very possible as the Chinese community has always been cursed with a cultural gambling problem.

Our hundreds of Singapore Pools’ legalised betting booths and two mega casinos have ensured that gambling addicts have easy access to wager their hard-earned money. I have seen many families broke up because someone within the family has a gambling problem. It is obvious that gambling and loan sharking go hand in hand and many families have pay the painful price.

Singaporeans have also been committing suicides at MRT stations so regularly  that half-length platform screen doors will be installed at all 36 above-station MRT stations by the year 2012 as a preventive measure.

However, I wonder how effective such platform screen doors will be if a person is determined  to commit suicide at the track or simply jump off our thousands of high-rise HDB flats.

Physical deterrence is just not an effective   adequate measure to prevent someone bent on killing himself if the underlying emotional root causes are not detected and resolved early.

We are know how Singapore is such a stressful materialistic society to live in. This is one main reason why thousands of Singaporeans decide to pack their bags every year to live abroad. Many yearn for a more balanced lifestyle which our country could not readily provide.

Our small nuclear family unit and lack of social interaction due to the rising popularity of social networks mean that many people have no real access to a human touch when they needed one.  Some are so muted to social interaction that they have even turn to online counselling than seeing a counsellor face to face!

Singapore’s suicide rate  ranked 46 out of 104 countries

According to the data obtained from World Health Organisation on  the  suicide rate of its population from year 2008, Singapore ranked at a respective 46 out of 105 countries listed.

An average 10.3 people  out of  100,000 took their own lives in Singapore (2006) and we fared much better than developed countries such as Japan 24.4 (2007), Switzerland 17.5 (2006), Hong Kong 15.2 (2006) and US 11.1 (2007).

Over one million people commit suicide every year worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that it is the thirteenth-leading cause of death worldwide. It is a leading cause of death among teenagers and adults under 35. There are an estimated 10 to 20 million non-fatal attempted suicides every year.

Figures from the Samaritans of Singapore, SOS, showed that the total number of suicides has increased from 364 in 2008 to 401 last year due mainly to the economic crisis and its underlying repercussions (source: Channelnewsasia 26 Jul 2010).

For every successful suicide attempt, there were seven unsuccessful ones.

More worrying, among youths, there was also an increase in numbers from 12 to 19 in two years – to hit a five-year high.

Men also accounted for two in three suicide deaths. Last year, men accounted for 267 of 401 recorded suicides, double that of female suicides, 134.

Young men in the age group of 20-29 were found to be at high risk.

Among them, suicides among men in their 20s doubled to 51, the highest since 1991.

I seriously believed that statistically the suicide figure should have been higher. The  coroner could have simply record a case of unnatural death if someone jumped off a block without leaving  a suicide note behind.  His death is not listed as suicide unless there is clear cut evidence of him doing so.

My close friend committed suicide at 21 years old

I remembered how a close friend of mine committed suicide  by hanging himself outside a church compound.  He was only 21 years old.

This was probably why I am very concerned when clients told me that they are suicidal – it always brought back this unforgettable experience I had with my close buddy.

In fact, another secondary school classmate was so moved  by the incident that he took up psychology as his core major while studying in the US. Now, he has a PhD in psychology and worked among those who need his  expertise.

In a way, my close friend’s death has touched some lives and I am sure that it was not in vain.

Studies have also shown that people who took their lives often talked about it with their close friends or loved ones. Some even prepared their suicide by giving away  their stuff as remembrance or buying up additional insurance policies so that their family members will be taken care of.

My friend  was clearly suffering from some psychological issue and the family had sent him to the former Woodbridge Hospital for evaluation. I also remembered helping to contact a volunteer Catholic counsellor who meet him once weeks prior to his suicide.

After he was discharged from the hospital, he took his own life the very night.

He was very unhappy that his family had placed him under psychiatriac  care  - against his will and I believed that this had worsened the situation for him.  His bruised ego took a massive hit of which he could never recover.

Shock reverberated through the secondary class when news of his death reached the classmates  and many of us who were close to him were blamed for not taking good care of him. I think most of us close to him  grew up a few more years after that fateful event.

A closely-knitted small Christian fellowship group that met weekly was also disbanded suddenly as rumours ensued that a love interest he developed with a girl there was not reciprocrated  and he took it badly.

For me, I not only lost a close friend but also a solid support system that meant alot to me. Until now, after almost thirty years since the group disbanded, most of the group members did not want to meet up and maybe the shame was too much to face up to as a group.

We studied together during secondary school and over weekend would play soccer with our other secondary school mates. He seemed ordinary and was a jovial lad to hang out with.

His family is also intact and cared for him alot.

However, he was particularly concerned with his cross-eyed countenance and even went for a failed operation to address the physical ailment. I guessed it was something that really bothered him alot and I encouraged him to get it fixed.

The operation sadly failed and he plunged deeper into a depression. His unrecipocrated love interest was another huge setback that resulted in an enormous dent on his self confidence.

Moreover, he failed to make the cut for polytechnic entry after his GCE O levels and in many ways he faced a  personal crisis of his own making which would toughen  him up alot if he had doggedly hang in there and not given up.

Unfortunately, he could not hang in there and succumbed to the pressures of life.

Why do people commit suicide?

For one who has  harboured  suicidal thoughts before, I must share that it really takes alot of courage for one to jump off a building or on to a MRT track before an approaching train.

Your knees shook and you may even put it off as the mere thought of doing it can simply freak you out.

I believe that those who did it must have thought of  suicide  for many months before mustering enough courage to eventually jump off a train platform. Most jumpers are also men as it took alot of raw courage to make the suicidal attempt.

Women preferred to take pills or slash their wrists as it is a less painful suicidal attempt. Most women also want to send a signal to their loved ones through their suicidal attempt so that they can have some attention and care.

Of course, unfortunately, some women have died from their attention-seeking attempts.

However, those who successfully  took  their own lives basically see no possible solution  to their personal problems and the psychological turmoil churning inside can be more tormenting than the issue itself.

I remembered facing massive financial problem during my joblessness in 2000/01. I could not sleep and eat well and psychologically I was very disturbed.

The mere fact that I could lose my home and became a bankrupt were too much for me to face up to. My ego took a massive hit in a materialistic  society that always favour those who have a fat bank account and gleaming cars.

I also stayed away from friends and my family and simply rotted away as I drowned myself in abject misery.

Naturally, I harboured suicidal thoughts as the problems seemed insurmountable and there was no way out. Thankfully, I snapped out of it and turned to friends for soft loans in humility.

It was a slow path to recovery but I was relieved that I didn’t make any real attempt to take my own life thought the thoughts were always there.

I always believe  that we all go through life events much the same as everyone else – with its regular ups and downs. Some may face more ups than downs and vice versa but  we all don’t have a smooth-sailing life.

There are certain periods in our  life that will be particularly stressful and requires  all of our inner resources for us to make it through.

Moreover, bad news always come as a bundle and  they  keep on coming incessantly – nonstop.

The nights seem longer and the sky is always grey. The light never seems to be there at the end of the tunnel.

Psychologists have commented how our adversity quotient will determine whether we can make it through life’s worse moments.

Those who grew up the rough way tend to be more resilient and have more inner strength to handle  life’s struggles than one who is rather sheltered and protected while growing up.

Someone who was made a bankrupt may want to take his life in shame whereas another bankrupt will want to fight on and try to turn his life around.

Dr Paul Stoltz, the guru of adversity quotient, recently wrote in  an article “When adversity strikes, what do you do?”:-

“I’ve surveyed more than 1,000 companies in 53 countries with these questions. And the sad truth is, most (70-90 percent) of the time, people do some combination of avoiding, surviving, and coping, meaning adversity is consuming them. About 10-30 percent of the time people will manage the adversity. Very rarely (five percent) do people and their enterprises truly harness it.

The ultimate state of zen-like resilience perfection is something I call, “Response Ability,” which I define as, “Your ability to respond optimally to whatever happens the moment it strikes.” That means naturally harnessing the force of adversity provides to fuel a deeply enriching and rewarding life. This is the highest aspiration.’

How a suicidal bankrupt friend turned his life around

A friend of mine was a shining testimony of how he managed to tackle his adversity head on and eventually gained an invaluable personal victory with a happy ending.

With only secondary education, he turned to doing IT retail business to make it big. He was also doing import and export business and a seemingly sweet deal turned out to be his downfall.

It was a multi million business deal and he took a bank loan to finance it.

It could make him at least a million dollars if the deal went through – smoothly.

The business friend took the stock, declared himself bankrupt and never paid my friend a cent for the deal.

He owed the bank almost $3 million dollars, was declared a bankrupt and lost his IT business in the process.

He hung his head in shame – more out of annoyance at his own naive stupidity than anything else.

For guys, when the ego took a massive hit – it could be potentially devastating psychologically.

My bankrupt friend  hid in his home for many months and even ate his meals in the bedroom. He was a pale shadow of someone who could sign business deals in the millions.

However, he was fortunate enough to have a girlfriend who stood by him – now his wife. They also have a young son.

She visited him often and gave him hope to live on. He later shared that he almost wanted to take his own life if not for the persistent efforts of his girlfriend that helped turn his life around.

He went over to Vietnam to start a business, managed to eventually clear his multi-million debts with the OA/banks and is now working at his thriving business in China.

I must say that my friend is very blessed to have someone who stood by him despite his adversity.  He has reached his pits and almost the end of his life.

For those harbouring suicidal thoughts, having someone who believe and stand by you is most crucial if you want to turn your life around.

It could be a family member or a close friend.

Seeking out support

That is the reason why social workers and counsellors have all along advocate that people in distress speak  to someone about what’s bothering them.

The important thing is they have literally discharge  their problem to someone else when they have talk it out.

It is akin to leaving your problem behind and you walk off a much relieved person after letting go verbally. The problem is still there but it does not feel that burdensome anymore and that is a big relief for many people.

We all know by now that how we perceive our problem is crucial to our well being. If we perceive that being a bankrupt means the end of our world, that thought will torment us until we have shifted in our thinking.

That is probably why speaking to a counsellor helps as often after verbalising out our problem, we realise that the issue is not so serious after all.

The emotional entanglement that goes with the problem often makes it seem larger and more serious.

Over time, when our mind has cleared and we are steadier, we may even laugh at our own predicament.

It is clear that there is much emotional discharge once you talk to someone about your problem.

Women particularly find this theraupetic  as they verbalise much more than men. We all know how  our women folks can gather weekly just to have tea and yak away in a cafe. They feel good doing it regularly and why not?

That is probably the reason why women are more ready to seek out someone to talk away their problems and statistically we all can see that women are less ready to take their own lives than men.

However, men tend to find this theraupetic outlet difficult to master.  They rather turn to the bottle or even abuse substances to numb the emotional pain.

Most men are emotionally shy and have problem connecting with their inner self. In their misery and rage, they can even kill someone as all their emotions are all bottled up.

Most men also never cry even though it is the number one relief for those pent-up emotions.

Men also have a bigger ego and are less inclined to seek help for their problem unless they are forced into a corner.

It is far better, nevertheless,  for men to seek out assistance when the problem is still in its infancy as doing it much later may not be as effective.

It will also take alot more time to help them see things from a different perspective when their thought patterns are already pretty much fixated by the time they start to see a counsellor.

They are also far more impatient  to see results than women when they seek assistance from a counsellor. Most men I know also prefer to see a male counsellor due to the ego factor. Most of our family service centres are still staffed with young women counsellors.

It is hope that more resources can be allocated by our government to help our men who are caught out in many of today’s life stressors.

Conclusion

A life lost to self-destruction often leaves behind a trail of misery and self-blame for  people who are  closed to them.

A church friend, whose ageing sickly father took his own life by jumping off a hospital window many years ago, has yet to come to terms with his eventful death.

She constantly blamed herself for his death and wished that she could do more to prevent his suicide.

People harbouring suicidal thoughts ought to really think about ways to overcome their problems than escaping from them.

As Dr Paul Stoltz has aptly wrote: “Through my past three decades of research on the subject, I’ve learned something shockingly simple: It comes down to one of two things. Over the course of your years, either adversity consumes you, or you consume it. Unfortunately, being consumed by adversity is far more common than truly consuming it.”

Reader Feedback

7 Responses to “Why Do Singaporeans Commit Suicide?”

  1. p says:

    Hi Gilbert,

    A very relevant story in this fast pace, materialistic and challenging environment.

    I suppose most suicides are preventable but not all.

    The living must not lived with a noose around his neck that he could have done better to prevent the suicide from happening.

    As much as group help and encouragement is important, the person must want, and seek, help.

    My friend told me the story of his buddy, a brilliant scholar, who attempted suicides. The first time he broke all his limbs. He tried again; this time he broke his spine and could only move his head and is permanently bedridden!

    When you are faced with any challenges, cut everything, including expenses, to a minimum. You need only a meal a day to survive, a positive outlook, a healthy mind and body to see you through adversity; friends or no friends.

    The World loves a winner; lie low, mark your time, make yourself relevant and useful. Your chance will come. If not tomorrow, soon!!!

    For those who have loss love ones to suicides, you have done all you possibly can. Don’t kid and chide yourself; hindsight is always 20/20.

    Lets move on… If you have done your best, good. Do everything within your ability and capability. We are no magician and we can’t predict the future.

    Let me say this “Before you attempt suicide, go visit the hospice (see how everyone loves, and struggle, to live another day), go see the mortuary (to realize how cold death is).

    It may change your outlook of what Life and Death means!

  2. Ah Beng says:

    Hi Gilbert,

    It is great that you tackle depression and suicide issues, most importantly depression and it usually the cause of suicide. Depression has been overlooked often and people most of the time would dismiss the importance and seriousness depression. Symptoms are often mistaken as mood swing and the person who has depression is often misunderstood as being unpleasant, anti-social or even nasty and aggressive etc…

    I’m glad that you have a team of counselor who provide help to people with depression. The society should have more people like you who don’t just talk but actually doing stuff to help others. Keep up your good work!

  3. exPMET says:

    People who have never had the feeling of despair at not being able to provide a meal even for their loved ones, or ensuring the water flows in the home; at being hounded by creditors, would never understand what it means to be suicidal. You feel that you have outlived your usefulneess and are starting to become a burden the ones you love the most. You feel as though that insurance policy that you signed up, and the HDB flat you own if sold/claimed would provide solace for those you’d hate to see go hungry on a daily basis.

    It is a daily struggle, not to look out the window and contemplate a solution to the financial burden.

  4. Daniel says:

    People should ask the Ministers, MPs, Perm Secs what do they personally think is the reason for people to commit suicide in SIngapore.

    Do these people even feel any bit of guilt over innocent lives lost?

    We have families who cannot be proper families because parents are constantly working hard to provide from hand to mouth ( i am not talking about those middle income people with cars or maids).

    Growing up a very poor family where we often go hungry and parents are constantly worrying about the next meal or children’s futures and always quarreling, 2 of my siblings have committed suicides.

    When we do not have proper family relationships, people have little hope when they want to die.

  5. R.S. says:

    [QUOTE]More worrying, among youths, there was also an increase in numbers from 12 to 19 in two years – to hit a five-year high.[/QUOTE]

    Being born in Generation Z – which is labelled ‘Strawberry Generation’ in most Asian countries, other generations do not take me seriously.

    Everything that I say gets treated as whining. I find it hard to confide in anybody when I feel depressed (because of academic stress or mental fatigue).

    There are two types of complaints from youths:
    1. Complaining for things that they don’t have. As long as the complainer is not impoverished, this type of complaints can be dismissed safely.
    2. Mental fatigue and stress. I believe that this type of complaints are dismissed too often, which too often leads to suicide.

    [QUOTE] We are know how Singapore is such a stressful materialistic society to live in. This is one main reason why thousands of Singaporeans decide to pack their bags every year to live abroad. Many yearn for a more balanced lifestyle which our country could not readily provide. [/QUOTE]

    The older generations of Singapore are resilient enough to withstand these pressures, but generation Z may not be. Everybody’s capabilities and threshold to withstand hardship is different. Please don’t take it that I am blaming anybody.

    I just hope that next time a Singaporean youth complains about stress and contemplates suicide, please take it seriously. Not everybody is able to withstand and strive in Singapore’s competitive society.

  6. sal says:

    The stress life in Spore…but religion forbid a person from committing suicide.

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