Some children as young as eight years old are thinking of suicide to cope with their problems, says a psychologist.
Citing an example, Mr Lawrence Tan told The New Paper: “Despite doing pretty well in school, a young patient faced performance anxiety and gave herself a lot of pressure.
“She messaged a family member, saying she felt like a failure and a burden on her parents, and that they would be better off if she were gone.”
Statistics from Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), a suicide prevention centre, show that numbers are on the rise, with more young children contemplating suicide.
In 2015-16, 77 children aged five to nine and 4,563 aged 10 to 19 called the SOS hotline compared to 14 and 2,366 in 2012-13.
And in 2016, 22 young people from the age of 10 to 19 took their own lives.
Psychologists flagged social media and lack of strong family and social networks as possible contributing factors.
Clinical psychologist Dr Carol Balhetchet said: “With suicide, no matter what age, it always seems like the taking back of power, the idea that I can take back control over myself. It is seen as a last resort when one feels like no one wants to listen to them.”
Mr Tan added: “With younger children, their frontal cortex is not fully developed, so they lack skills of higher judgment.
“They do not fully understand the gravity of suicide and might not realise that it is irreversible.”
Both experts agree that a lack of face-to-face interaction and human connection also affects the emotional ability of young people to cope with problems.
Dr Balhetchet said: “In this age of technology, children have more skills to cope with online interaction, but face to face becomes problematic, as they are less integrated into their physical communities.
“Nowadays, they want to become independent and be in control earlier, and they get frustration when their parents are protective.”
Families need to communicate
Mr Tan added that they could possibly have a more flippant attitude towards suicide as a result of suicides being portrayed in a glamorous light in popular media.
He said: “When they watch a suicide scene, they might not have an immediate reaction, but it plants a seed and when they are going through tough times, the image could pop into their minds.”
Mr Tan said that while some children might use the threat of suicide to get attention from their parents, accidents can happen.
He recalled an incident where a girl used to threaten her parents by putting a plastic bag over her head, but suffocated one day after leaving it on for too long.
Mr Tan added that parents can become desensitised when children cry wolf too often, but it is important to pay attention to warning signs.
Dr Balhetchet said: “Loneliness is a big issue, the lack of social support, emotional support. Families need to communicate and show children that it is okay to be sad or to have problems, and support them through it.”
Schools also have facilities to help, said Madam Choy Wai Yin, Ministry of Education’s director of Guidance Branch, Student Development Curriculum Division.
“We emphasise resilience-building through direct teaching and providing a supportive school environment,” she said.
“Teachers teach students socio-emotional skills such as time management, goal-setting, coping with stress, and handling expectations.”
Madam Choy added that teachers are equipped to look out for students displaying signs of distress, such as anxiety, out-of-ordinary behaviour, or lethargy and withdrawal.
They will refer these students to school counsellors or medical professionals for further assessment and intervention, if necessary.
A version of this article first appeared on The New Paper.