SINGAPORE – While working in the Singapore Civil Defence Force in 2001 and 2002, Dr Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah came across a person who was suicidal and wanted to jump from a height. Fortunately, he chose not end his life.
“That was my first instance of understanding that many people go through this… (It) was not my only experience with individuals attempting suicide, some unfortunately did not end well. It opened my eyes,” said Dr Wan Rizal, who is an MP for Jalan Besar GRC.
The experience left a deep impression on him and spurred him to learn more about mental health and well-being in his work as an educator and MP.
This month, Dr Wan Rizal is leading a group of 18 MPs from the People’s Action Party in a campaign to raise awareness of and generate discussions about mental health concerns.
The campaign, which runs from Sept 10 to Sept 30, follows a July report by non-profit suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) which said 452 suicides were reported in Singapore last year, the highest figure since 2012, and a 13 per cent increase from 2019’s 400 cases.
Titled #452TooMany, in reference to the lives lost last year, the campaign is a way to raise awareness about mental health issues and encourage people to seek help, said Dr Wan Rizal. “Mental health issues affect everyone. Every one of us reacts differently to stress. This pandemic has highlighted a few issues because of the circumstances that we are in,” he added.
Participating MPs will be organising guided discussions on mental health and suicide prevention with residents and grassroots and community leaders virtually or in person.
Mental health practitioners will join the MPs at the sessions which will include tool kits and resources provided with the support of Dr Wan Rizal’s mental health advisory team. The kits contain guided questions to promote discussions and find solutions to concerns raised by participants.
According to an Institute of Mental Health (IMH) study released on Sept 10, one in 13 adults in Singapore thought about suicide at some point in their lives.
This included individuals who had fleeting thoughts about suicide and those who had prolonged thoughts about it. It also covers thoughts about suicide across the respondents’ lifespan, from childhood to present stage.
The findings, which were released on World Suicide Prevention Day, are from the second Singapore Mental Health Study which was conducted between 2016 and 2018 and involved 6,126 participants, aged 18 years and above, representing Singapore’s general population.
The study used the suicidality module of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Composite International Diagnostic Interview to find the prevalence of suicidality here. Suicidality refers to thoughts, plans and attempts of suicide. The WHO module is widely used in epidemiological studies to determine the prevalence of suicidality.
The study also found women more likely than men to have thoughts of suicide and those whose highest education level was secondary school were five times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who had completed university.
Dr Mythily Subramaniam, assistant chairman of IMH’s Medical Board (Research), said the link between educational attainment and suicide attempts could come from the individual’s opportunities to seek help.
She said: “Higher education is generally associated with better access to resources and likely more awareness and access to places where one can seek help for distress. It is also possible that those with higher education have better coping skills or they are in safe environments during periods of heightened suicidal risk such as during adolescence.”
Those with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder were found to be more likely to have thoughts about suicide, plan or attempt suicide compared with individuals without any mental disorders.
“We need to learn to recognise the warning signs and not shy away from talking about suicide or seeking help when needed. There are several avenues of support and resources available in the community for individuals facing distress or thinking about suicide,” Dr Mythily said.
“We have a responsibility to support each other, acknowledge the distress felt by others, and encourage them to seek help.”
• National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am – 12am)
• Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
• Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)
• Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
• Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928
• TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252
• TOUCH Care Line (for seniors, caregivers): 6804-6555
• Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800