Suicide: Exposed

[Disclaimer: This article discusses explicitly the lack of awareness of mental health and the role of identifying mental illness in suicide prevention. If you are going through such issues, their presentation in this article might make you uncomfortable and it is advised for you to refrain from reading, or doing so but in the supervision of a trusted adult. Mental health is an important topic that should be discussed more openly and that is the only purpose of this article.]

When you open the newspaper on a Saturday morning and read the odd title about a suicide case, you consider it for a moment. You think to yourself, “Oh, that must be sad. I feel so bad for their family,” and sit in silence for 5, maybe 10 minutes processing the news. But then your moment of contemplation will pass and you’ll turn the page, forget you ever read about it, and move on with your merry weekend. Sound familiar? I sure hope so, because this is how most of us, including myself, would respond to such news. But today I want to talk about the elephant in our minds: let’s talk about suicide. 

Indians make up just about 11 percent of Singapore’s population, and yet within that community, the suicide rate is currently at a high 17 percent, as reported by the Samaritans Association of Singapore (SOS). More shocking is that the collected data shows more women killed themselves than men. While the numbers are appalling, they didn’t just pop up out of nowhere because mental health issues have been a part of our community for a very long time. We just never gave them the time of day. 

350 million people worldwide (who make up 5 percent of the population) suffer from depression. We watch them silently, encourage them to hide their scars, and if we’re feeling good we grieve for a few seconds when we hear about their death. But we’ve never mustered the courage to discuss why. Dr. Ong Say How, the chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health, says that several factors affect one’s decision to commit suicide. While stress can be a primary factor, people are also affected by their interpersonal relationships and academic challenges. But most importantly, it is when others dismiss such feelings and not give them importance, that it becomes unmanageable.

Health classes in schools are good platforms to start informing young minds that there are injuries other than cuts and bruises they might deal with. Yet in my middle school health class, I learned about the growth of pubic hair and the forms of inappropriate contact but nobody told me to take care of my mental health. My teachers taught me about microorganisms and the diseases they cause, but they never defined illnesses like depression or anxiety. On my first day of high school, when a senior with cuts on her wrist helped me open my locker, I didn’t know I should’ve reached out to her. Instead, like the other uninformed kids in my school, I watched my Principle advise us against shows raising awareness about mental health, like 13 Reasons Why, and joined the crowd in blissfully ignoring the ones in our class that clearly needed help. 

In college, my glass castle finally shattered. I attended my first mental health and wellness workshop, where they openly discussed the fact that 50 percent of mental illnesses begin by age 14. They told me what I feared most; that my awareness is severely limited and my schooling and upbringing did nothing to improve it. And this raises the question: are we as Indian Singaporeans not doing enough to completely educate the next generation?

The truth is that discussing mental health will benefit everyone. If talked about more, a mental illness can be identified just as easily as a heart attack, and more people will learn how to overcome situations to support the ones in need. Fewer parents might ask their kids why they don’t have the highest grade and appreciate them for the effort they put in. Teachers will stop telling students with scars to wear long-sleeves for fear of other students asking questions about it. The people that need help will get it and discover that therapy is just as good for the mind as exercise is for the body. 

So let’s talk about suicide; in schools, at home, with friends, at work. Let’s stop telling people that “they can get through this” and start asking them how we can help. By choosing to skim over the issue on a newspaper and not do anything else, you’re choosing to remain a part of the problem and not the solution. Suicide is a real problem that comes from palpable mental illnesses. Acknowledging this is the first step to preventing it.


Please note that if you ever feel like you're going through something that cannot be resolved, there is help available. Call the Samaritans of Singapore hotline at 1800 221 4444 any time, any day or visit their website for more resources. 

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