SINGAPORE – Close to 800,000 people around the world die due to suicide every year, and the numbers are rising, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
What is worrying, though, is the rising suicide numbers among young people, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said.
Noting that social media has been attributed as a cause, he cited a US study which found that teens who spend more time on electronic devices and social media are more likely to be at risk of depression and suicide.
Mr Wong was speaking at the 50th anniversary conference of suicide prevention agency The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) on Thursday (Sept 26). The conference was held at NTUC Centre and attended by professionals from the social service sector.
While there are no similar local studies linking social media use with suicide, Mr Wong, a patron of SOS, said that Singapore is not “immune” to global suicide trends and that social media shapes a person’s self-worth.
Mr Wong said on the link between social media and suicide: “Perhaps it is due to cyber bullying on social media platforms, perhaps it is because social media plays a part in shaping their sense of self-worth, and it drives a certain fear of missing out – there is even an acronym for it, FOMO, and the fear of being left out, it amplifies negative emotions of insecurity and inferiority. And in the absence of an adequate support system, the dangers that depression or suicidal thoughts go unchecked increase.”
He added that there is a shift in the attitudes and mindsets of the post-millennial generation, particularly those born after 1995, who “would have grown up with a smartphone, the Internet, and with an Instagram account, from a very young age”.
According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29 globally.
SOS said that suicide remains the leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 29.
Last year, 94 young people chose to end their own lives.
The number of teenage boys taking their own lives reached a record high last year. Nineteen boys aged 10 to 19 committed suicide last year, the highest since suicide figures began being recorded in 1991.
“There were close to 400 reported suicides last year. While we have not seen a rising trend of suicides so far in Singapore, we are fortunate not to. I understand that SOS has actually received more calls and e-mails from people seeking emotional support,” Mr Wong said.
SOS senior assistant director Wong Lai Chun said that it is encouraging to see more people seeking help as “it may indicate that they are more aware of what resources are available, and at the same time, mental health literacy among youths may be higher”.
Facebook Asia-Pacific’s safety policy manager Snow White Smelser, who spoke at the conference, emphasised the importance of social media platforms in highlighting potential suicidal or harmful behaviour for possible intervention. She said that Facebook and Instagram frequently update their policies to prevent harmful or suicidal content from being propagated.
One way to help the tech companies is for users to flag and report suicidal content such as a depressingly worded post or a graphic image promoting self-harm.
From April to June, Facebook took down 1.5 million pieces of content related to suicide or self-injury globally. On Instagram, 800,000 such pieces were taken down globally.
“Facebook and Instagram can be a great tool to connect with friends and family. But we want to make sure that everyone who uses these platforms does so safely,” said Ms Smelser.
Added Mr Wong: “To effectively prevent suicides, our whole community must be involved, and every person, as a part of that community, must take responsibility.”