Singapore reported 452 suicides last year, the nation’s highest count since 2012, amid the isolation and psychological distress brought about by the pandemic.
The 2020 numbers were 13% higher than the 400 cases recorded in 2019, according to data released by the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) on Thursday.
The increase was observed across all age groups but in particular the elderly, which recorded the highest number of suicides since 1991, reports CNA.
Among people aged 60 and above, a total of 154 took their own lives. This was a 26% increase over 2019. Other age groups reported a rise in suicides of 17%.
“Covid-19 has severely affected the nation’s economy, lifestyle, and mental health. We are extremely worried about how our elderly are coping during this public health crisis,” said SOS chief executive Gasper Tan.
During the pandemic, the elderly are more likely to face social isolation and financial worries, said Tan. They may also face difficulties with constantly adapting to changes and prolonged feelings of loneliness, which may be “devastating”.
Callers to the SOS hotline were facing difficulties coping with loneliness and inactivity due to isolation, psychological distress, and impaired social and family relationships.
Many elderly people live alone and lack the support to cope with the pandemic, said Professor Lee Cheng, clinical director at the Institute of Mental Health.
“For example, while they wish to comply with the call by the government to stay at home as much as possible, they may still have to go out to get their necessities,” he said.
“Those who are used to attending social activities outside on a regular basis will also likely feel socially isolated during this period.”
Also, many in-person activities for the elderly have gone digital since the pandemic started, so those with limited proficiency at technology may find themselves lost and helpless.
“Given the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last, it is imperative that we find new ways to support the mental health of the elderly,” said Tan.
People should find as many ways as possible to connect with the elderly, said Professor Helen Ko, who teaches gerontology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.
“Most elderly people need to hear a human voice and they especially long to hear the familiar voice of a loved one,” she said.
“But for those elders who are not so digitally savvy, we all need to be very patient as they may need more time to pick up the digital skills necessary to keep in touch.”
Tan told CNA that younger people should remember that many older people are hesitant and fearful about reaching out for help.