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16 Feb 2021

17th Feb 2021

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Mohd Fahmi Bin Aliman
MP for Marine Parade GRC

Question No. 656

To ask the Minister for Health (a) what is the number of people who have committed suicide or attempted suicide last year; (b) how many are aged 60 and above; (c) how many of such seniors are living alone; (d) how many of such seniors are diagnosed with depression prior to suicide or attempted suicide; and (e) what are the resources and programmes put in place during the pandemic to address the likely causes of such suicides and prevent the suicide rates from increasing.

Question No. 657

To ask the Minister for Health in light of the Ministry's reply of 6 January 2020 on multi-pronged interventions to support seniors (a) how effective have these initiatives been in reducing elderly suicide; and (b) how is the Ministry working towards improving existing initiatives to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our socially isolated elderly.

Question No. 658

To ask the Minister for Health (a) in light of a 2016 report on how 47,000 seniors aged 65 and above live by themselves, whether that figure has changed and, if so, by how much; and (b) in light of survey results showing lower social satisfaction levels for senior citizens during the circuit breaker period, whether the Ministry plans to enhance existing support mechanisms for the isolated elderly in the next two to three years.

Answer

There were 400 reported cases of suicide in 2019, of which 122 cases involved persons 60 years and above.  The number of attempted suicide cases was about 1,000 in 2019.  We do not have the breakdown of number of suicides or attempted suicides by those who live alone or have depression. We also do not have the breakdown of attempted suicides by age.  The number of Singapore residents aged 65 years and above who live alone has increased from 47,000 in 2016 to 67,600 in 2019, representing 9.7% and 11.6% of our resident population aged 65 years and above respectively.  

The causes of suicide are complex and multi-faceted, often involving family, social and mental health issues.  Therefore, the government works closely with Ministry of Social and Family Development and community partners on multi-pronged approaches, comprising promoting mental health and well-being, raising awareness on suicide prevention, and providing professional support and crisis interventions to at-risk groups, including targeted support for older adults.

First, in upstream intervention, we seek to build public awareness on the importance of good mental well-being.  For example, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) conducts training sessions on mental well-being and change management for the general population, to help them recognise the signs and symptoms of poor mental health.  Under the Seniors’ Health Curriculum programme, HPB also conducts a series of healthy ageing workshops, which include psychosocial education modules, to equip seniors with knowledge and skills to self-care and manage mental well-being, including where to seek help if necessary.

Secondly, we have services and programmes to provide support to older adults with social and emotional needs.  For example, staff and volunteers from the Silver Generation Office (SGO), local grassroots organisations, social service agencies and senior activity centres proactively and regularly reach out to seniors living alone or who are at risk of social isolation, to provide companionship and encourage them to participate in social activities.  From May 2021, we will be rolling out a new eldercare centre service model.  Under this new model, eldercare centres will serve as key touchpoints to all seniors, regardless of their housing type, income or frailty levels, and will reach out to seniors to proactively engage them.  Seniors can also sign up with CareLine, which is a 24/7 social support hotline that provides tele-befriending services as well as emergency response to seniors in distress.

Third, we also have targeted support for seniors who may be at higher risk of suicide and their family.  Under the Community Resource, Engagement and Support Teams (CREST) programme, Community Outreach Teams reach out to at-risk elderly and their caregivers to provide basic social-emotional support and education on coping with mental health needs, and link them and their caregivers to community resources for further support.   Family Service Centres also provide case management and counselling support to low-income and vulnerable individuals and families, including seniors, to help them with issues such as family, financial and emotional difficulties.

Lastly, there are services in place to support crisis intervention.  For instance, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) operates a 24-hour hotline to counsel persons in distress. Similarly, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) operates a 24-hour Mental Health Helpline to assess and triage cases, and activate home visit teams if necessary.  For cases of attempted suicide, the Police may engage the next-of-kin to link them up with support or refer the individual to IMH for assessment and treatment.

These services continued to operate throughout the pandemic, including during the Circuit Breaker period, to ensure that seniors at risk of social isolation remain supported.  Befriending engagements were conducted remotely where feasible in place of physical home visits. SGO also engaged about 21,000 seniors who have little or no social support during the Circuit Breaker period through weekly or fortnightly calls to monitor their well-being.  Community mental health services also remained accessible with safe management measures in place for persons, including seniors, with mental health needs.  The Government also set up the National CARE Hotline to offer an additional avenue of emotional and psychological support to public who are facing distress due to the pandemic.

I  wish to record my thanks to the officers and volunteers of all these services who reached out to all these persons in need during the difficult times through the Circuit Breaker. We will continue to improve our inter-agency and multi-pronged efforts to support seniors in the community, especially those at-risk of suicide.