Launched last November, Care Line by Eastern Health Alliance – aims to ensure patients receive adequate care – has recently been scaled up to a 24/7 hotline service, commencing July 2017.

This Care Line hotline is one of the many services available to those facing challenges in their personal and work lives. In addition, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) has released a report in July detailing the statistics of suicidal cases amongst the Singaporean population.

A phone call away: Care Line staff treated as friends

Besides waiting for calls from patients, Care Line staff call up senior citizens regularly to remind them of upcoming appointments, such as medical consultations. Many clients also call in whenever they are feeling unwell and are not sure how to proceed or seek treatment. Besides that, some of the elderly choose to call out of loneliness or feel in need of a listening ear.

Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health visited the Care Line office on 31 July, to observe a first-hand-day of the daily operations. Madam Janet Thng, one of the client service associates who joined nine months ago, shares, “It's quite challenging sometimes, because we have clients with emotional issues.”

Mr Kuok Pau Kwong, is one of the callers who dials in to centre when he needs someone to talk to. “If I have a problem, I tell them. I treat them as friends,” expresses Mr Kuok, who recently got the toes of his right foot amputated following an infection.

Large number of adults aged 50 and above at risk for suicide

A recent news report by SOS further depicted that older adults aged 50 and above are a worry for suicide risk in the country. Based on the statistics, this age group made up 46% of suicides in 2016, with 197 deaths. This was a 19% hike from 166 cases recorded in 2015.

SOS said that adults in this age group were sometimes regarded as the “sandwich generation” as they care for both children and ageing parents simultaneously. In total, 429 suicide cases were reported last year – a 20 person increase from 2015.

According to SOS, 30 – 33% of calls on their 24-hour hotline for the past five years were from those aged 50 and above. Some of the main stressors that lead to these calls are employment issues, financial worries, family relationships, mental health, physical and psychological impairment and chronic health problems.

Christine Wong, Executive Director of SOS commented on this stating that, “Males in their 50s experience significant life changes with a convergence of several factors that makes them especially vulnerable.” On the contrary, females are more likely to be receptive in seeking help compared to males. This could be contributing to the higher suicide rates recorded in males as opposed to females.

Be aware of suicide warning signs and learn about resources available

Both genders, however, commonly face challenges in their later years such as the loss of family and friends leading to isolation and less support, debilitating physical health problems and a loss of independence. SOS elaborated that suicidal ideation has many causes. According to the latest press release by SOS, more often than not, they are the result of feeling overwhelmed by life situations, and thus experiencing a sort of tunnel vision and believing suicide is the only way out.

SOS commented on this by reiterating that this group of people often fall through the cracks because of the challenge in getting older adults or even men to reach out to others for support or professional help. They stressed on the need for channelling more attention into recognising suicide warning signs and learning the resources available to support people who could be silently struggling.

With the rapidly increasing ageing population, SOS believes this provides an imperative to change. The culture of help-seeking and an inclusive social support network among family and friends can be adopted with awareness and sensitivity to the basic needs of people at risk of suicide. MIMS

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