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Student Suicide: The Opening of a Pandora Box

On 10 September, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) distributed plasters to the public for World Suicide Prevention Day. These plasters were meant for people to wear, and to act as a conversation starter on suicide. But is Singapore doing enough to tackle this issue?

Despite the worrying trend of student suicides, the media has done very little coverage of it. In most cases, killing oneself bears a stigma of shame and is usually a hush-hush matter discussed behind closed doors.

According to the SOS, more young people who contemplated suicide sought help from them. In 2013, 224 clients reached out to them via its email befriending service – 65 more than the previous year. Out of that number, 163 clients, or 73 per cent, were considered to be at “real risk” of suicide. And this could be just the tip of an iceberg.

Many people choose not to discuss about suicide because it would be the opening of a Pandora box.

Family problems, academic stress and social pressures are some of the reasons why students consider ending their lives. But many still choose to turn a blind eye to suicide because it would be the opening of a Pandora box. Why then should we create unnecessary problems?

The increasing occurrence is a warning and acknowledgement that more needs to be done to prevent such tragic occurrences from happening. Take South Korea, which has one of the highest suicide rates amongst students. ‘Death experience schools’, such as the Seoul Hyowon Healing Centre in the capital, have come up with a new form of therapy for suicidal students.

Students in South Korea going through their 'funeral'
Students in South Korea going through their ‘funeral’. (Credit)

Patients get to stage their own suicide, write their own will and experience a mock funeral. They are then counselled after experiencing ‘death’. Through such a creative way of dealing with suicidal students, South Korea makes the sensitive topic less of a taboo, by acknowledging the problem and coming up with ways to handle it. At the same time, the country is able to deal with the issue more swiftly by being honest with itself.

(Credit)

By bidding our time and ignoring the problem, there is a grave possibility that we could one day wind up in South Korea’s position of having to grapple with a high suicide rate. But if we can openly talk about it, come up with ideas to provide support, and reach out to and help our fellow students, this does not have to happen.

As we publicly discuss suicide, we are acknowledging that these problems exist and there is a need for drastic change.

In Singapore, the main form of help is through support hotlines, such as that offered by SOS, or one-on-one counselling offered by schools and hospitals. However, students might be reluctant to seek help from them due to embarrassment. One way we can break this barrier is by taking a leaf out of South Korea’s book: by acknowledging the gravity of this issue, and by coming up with appropriate channels for them to relieve their emotions. By doing so, we can remove the stigma of seeking help and increase the public’s awareness of this dangerous trend.

As we publicly discuss suicide, we are acknowledging that these problems exist and there is a need for drastic change. There is a possibility that we might realise we have little control over the situation. There might be public outcry, dismay and even unhappiness. Some might even deem this discussion as unnecessary.

But not all hope is lost. When Pandora opened the box and let all the vices out, she also let hope out. And what our students need is hope in their lives. We ignore these students’ cries for help, only if we collectively choose to keep Pandora’s box shut.

Marvina Tan
Marvina is a Year 2 Literature student who is constantly exploring and questioning things happening around her. When she is not, you will probably her in the central library catching her Zs.