Wednesday, November 9, 2011

“Suicides in Singapore: Address it, not shun it”

“I expect to pass through this life but once.  Therefore, if there be any kindness I can show, or good things I can do for another human being, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.
- William Penn -

William Penn’s well known quote that motivates us to show kindness to everyone is worth practising given that we are living in an unpredictable world.  An unpredictable world calls for us to prepare ourselves for uncertainties and become more predictable.  To help our brothers and sisters who are finding it so hard to cope. 

The recent spate of suicides at Bedok Reservoir and the growing number of people, including the lonely elderly, who have lost the will to value life, has prompted me to pen this article.    

Often people who lose the will to live and commit suicide have struggled with depression or one of the other types of depressive illnesses, and have not sought professional treatment.  It is sad that although depression is the most treatable of all types of mental illness, 50% of persons with depression and anxiety disorders do not seek help here in Singapore.  This is the same as the estimated 50 -60% in most developed countries.  A person who has depression feels hopeless and often does not look forward to a brand new day.  Some sleep most of the time to forget their worries.

People who suffer from depression are in dire need of support.  They need friends because loneliness and a feeling of being uncared for will make them feel that life is not worth living. 

Poor relationships, be it in the office or in personal life is also a cause for depression.  Sometimes, it is not work that will “kill you”, but people.

Highlight cases of suicide in the media

Straits Times reader Lim Wei Jan wrote in on 28 October this year appealing to the media to cease sensationalizing suicide cases as it could create a copycat syndrome.

While media stories about suicides may be newsworthy and can cause harm, the media being a powerful tool for communication can play an important role by highlighting suicide prevention and stories of people who have overcome adversities.   It would also be useful to seek the views of experts on this topic.

The media, if it needs to report on suicide cases could also focus on :

(a)   Trends in suicide rates

(b)   Recent advanced treatments

     ( c )  Individual stories of how treatment was life - saving

(d)   Stories of people who despair without resorting to suicide

But I’m glad that some newspapers like The New Paper have highlighted stories of people who are overcoming adversities.  It is a step in the right direction.

Real people, real stories

Sometimes it is necessary to raise issues on suicide because it creates more awareness for policy makers to understand the needs of those who are going through the stresses of life and who are in dire need of support.   Just like mental illness that is affecting many in schools, in our offices, in homes, in churches, and in the heartlands, these social problems should not be swept under the carpet.  Rather, we must talk about it, discuss it and find quick solutions. 

I survived a suicide in 1995 and I really regret giving up on life.  I can’t imagine the damage it could have done to my family if I had not survived.  The doctor’s advice to me after he saved me still lingers fresh in my mind: “Don’t ever do such a thing again, Mr. Fernando because there is always a way out.”   And that is the key message I would like to convey to anyone who feels that life is not worth living – There is always a way out.

I encourage people who are severely distressed and want to give up on life to seek treatment - immediately.  Believe me it helps!

 Warning signs of depression

Having gone through depression for a few years, I would like to share with you some of the warning signs that you need to look out for when coping with depression.  These are:

1.    Excessive fatigue or disturbed sleep

2.    Weight loss

3.    Losing interest in everything

4.    Difficulty concentrating

5.    Failing memory

6.    Diminishing sexual interest

7.    Inability to experience pleasure, even in situations that are normally pleasurable

8.    Feeling worthless - that life is meaningless

9.    Having thoughts of suicide

For ladies, depression sometimes comes right before their menstrual period.  Some women expect to feel depressed, even making a habit of it.  There is a way to fight it.  First of all, take your mind off it.  Do things that you enjoy doing, like dancing, listening to music and watching comical movies.  Engaging in happy things makes you feel happy and also makes you look confident.

 Note: Any change, serious loss or stress - e.g a divorce, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or move to a new home can trigger depression, usually temporary, but sometimes requiring treatment.

Research has revealed that a combination of antidepressant medication along with psychotherapy - otherwise known as talk therapy is the quickest, most effective treatment for treating depression.  Sometimes those suffering from depression just need a listening ear.  Let us find the time to rally around them during their difficult moments.

Schizophrenia: Look out for the warnings signs!

After caring for my wife, Doris for thirty-seven years, I am now more alert to the warning signs of schizophrenia.  These are some of the symptoms that she displays when she falls into a relapse.

-                     She complains of headaches

-                     She cannot sleep at night

-                     She becomes very nervous

-                     Many thoughts run through her troubled mind

-                     She is restless

-                     She becomes confused

-                     She is deep in thought

-                     She has overwhelming sadness

-                     She has difficulty concentrating

-                     She starts recalling unpleasant memories

-                     She has a loss of appetite

-                     She believes that people are talking about her

-                     She becomes fearful, suspicious and argumentative 

-                     Dandruff starts appearing on her forehead and on her hair despite shampooing

-                     Finally, she has suicidal thoughts and at this stage, she must be warded.

Finding solutions to suicide

With the financial crisis looming over our heads, it is crucial for all of us to play a part in helping to bring the suicide rate down.

Bring available supporting services right to the doorstep

Sometimes it is necessary for us to bring supporting services right to the doorstep of those who are in desperate need of  help.  People who attempt suicide are likely to do it again if they fall into depression at another period in their life.  When we read of stories in the media of people who are unable to cope with the stresses of life, we can help to highlight such cases to Members of Parliament, Government agencies, the CDCs and VWOs who are in the business of mental health care.  For a start, government agencies need to scan the newspapers everyday and pick up news of people struggling in life and then bring the supporting measures to the person concerned or to their family members because people suffering from depression or other types of mental illness are quite often in denial.

Grassroots leaders must also be trained and equipped to look out for warning signs of people struggling with mental illness as they are the “eyes and ears” of their respective MPs.   

Face-to-face contact

A friend of mine told me that in Australia if you are contemplating suicide and call the hotline, the professionals will come down onsite and talk you out of it. Even though it will involve resources and money, I feel this could help to lower the suicide rate because nothing beats face-to-face contact. 

Form a suicide prevention committee

To tackle head-on the problem of suicides, it would be useful for the Government to form a task force comprising of experts and even people who have overcome suicides, to brainstorm for ideas and find quick solutions to suicides.  We must not see it as “extra work” but do so with a keen sense of saving and reclaiming lives.

Form retiree clubs

Most workers who retire will lose key social support when they have left their jobs.  They become lonely when colleagues stay out of touch. Loneliness, as mentioned earlier can lead to depression. So a good way to ensure that retirees can still lead fruitful and meaningful lives after they are no longer in the work force is to form Retirees Clubs. Government agencies and private companies could initiate this suggestion for workers who hit 50 while they are still contributing in their respective ministries and companies.

Public education

We must intensify public education on depression and other types of mental illness, and coping skills in every part of Singapore – in schools, in the heartlands, in offices and in churches because mental illness is a hidden illness, a hidden disability that is affecting a large number of our population.

And as Christmas 2011 is just around the corner, I would like to wish one and all yuletide greetings with this poem which I penned, entitled “Christmas made in Singapore.”

Christmas made in Singapore

The annual light-up at Orchard Road

People in festive moods gathering by carloads

The Christmas lights that sparkle at night

Here the city comes alive and it is such a beautiful sight

Christians who congregate in churches to attend midnight mass

Start of the Christmas celebrations that for 12 days, will last

We see Christmas carols being sung in many places

We see goodwill being spread in many places

Children all excited decorating the Christmas tree

The smiles on their pretty faces are a sheer delight to see

“Santa Claus is coming tonight” all would say

For surely the gifts St. Nick brings will make their day

As in many cities, the Christmas feast in Singapore is an annual tradition

Family and friends tuck into meals prepared in mummy’s kitchen

Providing for the poor, sickly and less fortunate people in Singapore

Is a joyful event,  an annual affair

During Christmas, volunteers raise more funds because they care and share

The true meaning of Christmas is to give with our hearts

This for many will in the New Year, be a good start

So let’s uplift and comfort anyone who is finding it hard to cope

Give them the will to value life and embrace hope

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all

Spread  kindness and love and you will always stand tall


Raymond Anthony Fernando


Disclaimer:  Although this sharing tips mentioned in this article has worked very well for the author and his wife who has schizophrenia, readers should not regard the tips described as the only way to help in the healing of ALL patients suffering from depression and other types of mental illness as different people respond to different ways of treatment, rehabilitation and care.  Please consult a qualified doctor, counsellor or psychologist for more information.  

The writer is the recipient of the Model Caregiver Award 2007 and Mental Heath Champion 2010. He runs a website at :
This article is also available on The Online citizen:

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