Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Number of elderly suicides hits record high in 2017 as Singapore population ages; Consider legalising euthanasia

129 seniors took their own lives last year, even as figures dropped for other age groups
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 30 July 2018

The number of seniors taking their own lives hit a record high last year even as the total number of suicides dipped - raising concerns among counsellors that seniors may not be getting access to the support they need.

According to a breakdown of government statistics provided by suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), 129 people aged 60 and above committed suicide last year - the highest number recorded for this age group since suicide numbers began to be tracked in 1991.

The suicide figures for every other age group fell and the total of 361 suicides reported last year was 15.8 per cent lower than the 429 in 2016.

That meant that the proportion of suicides committed by those aged 60 and above - typically somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent each year - hit 35.7 per cent last year.

"It is very worrying that many of the elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles, when they should be enjoying the lustre of their golden years," said Ms Christine Wong, executive director of SOS.

"With the elderly population in Singapore increasing steadily, suicides in this population may be expected to continue rising."

Another cause for concern: usage patterns of SOS' 24-hour hotline showed that calls made by seniors dropped by 18 per cent - from 6,904 calls in 2016 to 5,652 calls last year.

Said Ms Wong: "We need to find out the barriers that prevent them from getting through to SOS, and if they know where and what are the other available help resources."

A spokesman for Fei Yue Community Services said most elderly people may not know who to turn to for help or how to do so, either out of ignorance or reluctance to find out. "Those who are aged and sick, have little or no family or dependant help, and are socially isolated, may be more susceptible."

Ms Wang Jing, assistant director of Hua Mei Counselling and Coaching at Tsao Foundation, said changes in family patterns could be a contributing factor to the rise in suicides among the elderly.

"For most older people, families are their closest ties and where they first turn to for help but the family size is getting smaller and the number of elders living alone or with an elderly spouse is going up."

Most adult children live busy lives and may not be able to give as much attention to parents as the elderly need or expect, she added.

"Elder isolation is something we need to address in order to tackle elder suicide," she said. "Living with another person does not necessarily mean one does not become lonely or isolated. Interaction and emotional support are key."

Volunteers have an important part to play, said Ms Wang, noting that more people need to be trained to recognise signs of depression and suicide risk, and to establish channels to flag people at risk to professionals.

Similarly, physicians, social workers and counsellors of eldercare services should make it a point to look out for signs of emotional distress and to use standard assessment scales to identify risks and activate safety plans, she said.

"Suicide is... an extreme situation when people want to put an end to their continuous pain and feelings of overwhelming helplessness," said Ms Wang.

"If steps are taken early to manage seemingly insurmountable... problems, suicide may not occur," she added.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in emotional distress, call SOS' 24-hour hotline on 1800-221-4444.

Consider legalising euthanasia

The rise in suicide numbers among seniors shows that not enough is being done to help them (Number of suicides among seniors hits record high; July 30).

Let's take the example of a senior in his 70s or 80s who is poor and has advanced cancer.

The high cost of treatment, the physical pain and the fact that he may not want to burden anyone may lead him to think that the easiest way out for him would be to end his life.

Society can offer more options, such as euthanasia, for such people.

Although many healthy critics would choose the moral high ground and reject such an option as ethically reprehensible, we should not lose sight of the fact that the alternative may be a grisly death, as reflected in the increased suicide figure.

It is ironic that suffering animals here have the option of a quick and peaceful end, but not humans. We should revisit euthanasia as an option to end suffering humanely.

Seah Yam Meng
ST Forum, 1 Aug 2018

Euthanasia is just glorified suicide

Mr Seah Yam Meng claims that society should offer euthanasia as an alternative to reduce the high rate of elderly suicide (Consider legalising euthanasia; Aug 1).

However, euthanasia should not be legalised because it is just a glorified form of suicide.

Just because it involves an official document and a doctor does not change the fact that someone is in such a dark and lonely place that he has decided his life is not worth living.

We have to work on creating a community that will help people find a reason to keep living, not give them a quick "solution" to end all their problems.

By legalising euthanasia, the responsibility is pushed on to the person in question, not the people around who could make a change.

This would make euthanasia seem ideal to the uninvolved because this places them on a moral high ground.

It is an easier way to deal with illness and suffering.

Last, it is illogical to compare putting down animals with euthanasia for humans.

Animals do not have a say in ending their lives, their owners do.

Often, we focus on our pain instead of how we can come out of it stronger.

I cannot imagine the pain that terminally ill people go through, but I believe that if they put up a good fight, they would be an inspiration to others who are battling the same illness to keep fighting.

To fight is to take a gamble on your life, but to not do so is to guarantee death.

Rachel Tan Poh Yin, 19
Undergraduate student
ST Forum, 15 Aug 2018

Watch terminally ill suffer before commenting on euthanasia

I am very glad that, as a young woman, Ms Rachel Tan Poh Yin has never experienced the misery of a terminal illness (Euthanasia is just glorified suicide; Aug 15) and I hope and pray she never does.

I recently watched a dear friend die of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

She'd spent her life working as a human rights lawyer, and was the toughest person I knew.

This didn't stop her slowly suffocating as the disease progressed.

The coughing and choking fits she suffered were terrifying, rather like drowning, but without the blessing of a death at the end.

She desperately wanted assisted suicide but, living in Australia, she could not.

As a civilised society we should be ashamed of this. Dogs and cats are treated better; when they suffer from a terminal illness they can be put down.

Clearly, assisted suicide or euthanasia would need to be very carefully regulated to prevent abuses or improper use.

But if anyone wants to condemn it outright, I suggest they watch their friends or family members suffer the pain of a terminal illness first.

Daniel Emlyn-Jones (Dr)
ST Forum, 16 Aug 2018


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