Parliamentary Replies

August 26, 2008

Incidence of Suicide Among Youths

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mdm Cynthia Phua, MP for Aljunied GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) What is the incidence of suicide among youths between 10 and 23 years old? (b) How many of these cases involved students? (c) How many of these suicide victims had seen their school counsellors before they ended their lives? (d) What is the Ministry doing to reduce the suicide trend among students?

Response

The incidence of suicide for all residents between ages 10 to 241 years has not shown any increasing trend over the past few years. According to data from the birth and death registry of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the incidence for this age group was 7.2 in 2003, 5.8 in 2004, 6.1 in 2005, 4.9 in 2006 and 6.7 in 2007. Among these, suicides involving students varied from 10 to 19 cases per year. The figures are given in Table 1:

Table 1: Number of Cases of Suicide involving Students
Year Student Population Total for all Residents (between 10 and 24)
Pri and Sec Schools and JCs/CI Post-Sec Institutions and Universities Total for Student Population
2003 14 5 19 50
2004 6 5 11 41
2005 6 4 10 44
2006 5 6 11 36
2007 5 7 12 49

While the numbers have not been rising, every suicide is regrettable and MOE’s has adopted a comprehensive approach that aims prevent such incidences. Measures have been developed over the years based on the Ministry’s research on suicide prevention and inputs from external partners and experts which include psychiatrists and clinical psychologists from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). The key elements of this approach are:

  1. building protective factors in our students,
  2. identifying at-risk students for early support, and
  3. channelling students with suicidal tendencies to the appropriate psychological, medical and other necessary resources for intervention.

Our schools build protective factors within students themselves primarily through the provision of social and emotional learning (SEL). SEL helps students acquire a set of social-emotional competencies, which will enable our students to better understand themselves, interact effectively with others and cope with life’s challenges, thereby inoculating them against succumbing to suicidal thoughts and behaviours. This is further augmented by the Mind Your Mind (MYM) programme, a school-based mental health education package, targeted at primary and secondary school students. The package is jointly developed by Health Promotion Board (HPB) and MOE, and covers topics such as stress and anger management, building positive self-esteem and depression.

To help students in need of support, every school has a tiered-referral system in place to facilitate the early identification and extension of help to them. At the first tier are our teachers who are trained to identify students who show signs that they are troubled and provide the necessary basic support, including referring students to counsellors in school who form the second tier of support. Complex cases are referred to the third tier of support, which can involve guidance specialists from MOE, mental health professionals or the relevant social service agencies. Our post secondary institutions and universities also have their equivalent of student support services and programmes to cater to the mental health needs of their students.

In addition, HPB runs an on-line peer support network and disseminate pertinent mental wellness messages using such youth-centric communication channels. The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) also conducts ‘Emotional First Aid’ talks and workshops to equip youths with information on where one could seek help and knowledge to identify suicide warning signs so that they can look out for their friends who may be going through difficult times. In addition, youths in distress can email SOS or call their 24-hour hotline.

Despite these efforts to prevent suicides, a few cases still occur each year. They showed no early warning signals or sign of trouble which alerted teachers and other school staff, to act. We will persist in our efforts to prevent suicides and MOE will continue to work closely with our partners, such as the IMH, to develop strategies for early detection of mental illness and intervention for students in need.

While schools and the wider community can support and educate our youths, the support from the home is also paramount. Parents and family members can help their youths set realistic expectations for themselves and develop the resilience and strength of character which will enable them to ride the challenges of life.