Suicide is among the leading cause of death among the younger population aged 10 to 29 in Singapore. In fact, we are witnessing a rising trend of suicide, with the onset of the pandemic.

Numerous studies found that:

  1. Most individuals who have suicidal ideation have mixed feelings about suicide; and

  2. They may seek help before a suicide attempt.

As concerned family and friends, what are some of the signs associated with suicide risk that we should be aware of?

Health Conditions

People with chronic or terminal illnesses, as well as mental health conditions, may experience a sense of hopelessness about their life and future, putting them at a higher risk of suicide.

Situational Stressors

People who are going through difficult and stressful events, such as divorce, unemployment, imprisonment, or exposure to violence and death, are at a higher risk for suicide. These events may also place the individuals at a higher risk for developing psychological disorders that could affect their perception.

On top of that, people with a history of substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse, social isolation, and past suicide attempts are also at a higher risk for suicide.

Verbal Cues

Regardless of what you may think about suicide threats, never take them lightly. When someone you know say that they don’t want to live anymore, it should be taken as a warning sign.

The following are other common verbal cues associated with clinical depression and suicidal ideation to look out for:

  • Using more first-person pronouns (e.g., I, me, myself). This is reflective of someone who is focused inwardly, which is typically observed in people with high awareness and experience of psychological pain.

  • Using more absolute terms (e.g., always, never). People who are clinically depressed tend to hold a black-and-white (or all-or-nothing) thinking pattern, suggesting impaired judgement and reasoning.

  • Speech characterised by guilt and self-blame, isolation and loneliness, as well as feeling tired, trapped and being a burden. When someone is experiencing a lot of pain, each day may seem like a recurrence of the one before and they can find it increasingly difficult to get by as they are unable to break out of the negative loop.

Behavioural Signs

Take note if you notice someone you know starting to withdraw from others, neglect their physical appearance or lose interest in activities that they used to find pleasure in. People who have thoughts of suicide also typically give away their treasured possessions, or make a conscious effort to visit their family members and close friends out of the blue. These are common signs of suicide preparations, such as having closure or saying goodbye to loved ones. Other forms of suicide preparations include writing a will, researching on suicide methods, or writing a suicide note.

How Can I Help?

Contrary to popular belief, talking about suicide will not increase suicidal thoughts, or put the thought of suicide in their heads. In fact, speaking about it helps them know that there are people who are concerned about them. This would give an opportunity to those around them to offer support and help.

Granted, many of us are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide and we may not know how best to start a conversation about it. Here are some helpful:

  • Invite them to talk about their difficulties and listen without judgement. Withhold the urge to problem-solve or give quick solutions. Remember, they are not looking for advice.

  • Check on what they have been doing to cope, and what resources they have available.

  • Ask directly: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

    • If they are, encourage them to seek immediate help. For example, they can contact the 24-hr suicide hotline provided by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).

    • If they are not, do still encourage them to seek help from professionals, such as counsellors or psychologists. Offer your support by sourcing for suitable services together, or even accompanying them for their appointments.

Taking the first step

Singapore’s decision to decriminalise suicide attempt from 1 January 2020 was widely applauded as a move to support, rather than prosecute, people who are so overwhelmed by their difficulties that they attempt suicide. Indeed, when it comes to suicide prevention, much can be done to promote mental health awareness and encourage help-seeking. We can start by doing our part to support the people around us. How can we help to protect the precious lives of those we love?

If you are struggling mentally or know someone who needs help, please know that you are not alone. Consider teleconsulting a mental wellness professional on the WhiteCoat app at your discretion, and receive the help you need at your discretion. Click here for more information on our Mental Wellness service, or click here to go back to the blog.

This post was first published here by Annabelle Psychology, WhiteCoat’s Mental Wellness Partner.