Middle-age suicide rate up: report

  Channel News Asia
August 30, 2007

THE figures point to a worrying trend - more men in their 40s and women in their 50s have committed suicide since 2003.

In that year, there were 14 suicides for every 100,000 men in their 40s, according to government figures released yesterday. This increased to 19 per 100,000 last year.

For women, there were eight suicides per 100,000 of those in their 50s in 2003. The figure rose to 13 per 100,000 last year.

According to earlier media reports, 419 people took their lives last year, up from 346 in 2003.

Still, Singapore's overall suicide rate for those between 45 and 54 years old is lower than that of places such as Hong Kong, Japan and Switzerland, said Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Nonetheless, the rates reflected a "worrying trend" as each suicide was a "tragic loss" for both the family and community, he said in a written reply to a question posed by Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang.

Dr Balakrishnan also revealed that an Inter-Ministry Working Group on Mental Health, chaired by Ministry of Health permanent secretary Yong Ying-I, had been formed to study ways to improve the mental and emotional resilience of Singaporeans.

"I don't find the rates for those in their 40s and 50s surprising," said Dr Ang Yong Guan, chairman of the Action Group for Mental Illness. "What's paradoxical is the correlation that when the economy does well, the suicide rates go up."

He added: "It could be because people start seeing those around them becoming more successful, so they start to feel affected. This is unlike a recession, where everyone does not do well."

Dr Balakrishnan also noted that each suicide case "is unique" and often accompanied by a combination of problems. "Contributing factors such as personality traits, mental health and socio-cultural environment may also play a role."

To mark Suicide Awareness Week, which is held between Sept 22 and 29, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is organising two forums that will address issues like how to help someone with suicidal tendencies.

SOS' latest annual report said that more women attempted suicide than men. Chinese women, married and between 20 and 30 years old, appeared to be the most vulnerable. Marital and family relationship problems were the main reasons.

Meanwhile, the Government will pump more resources into mental health promotion and treatment. The Health Promotion Board, with other public agencies and the private sector, is expanding such programmes, said Dr Balakrishnan. - /ym