From ‘Younger victims a cause for concern’ 14 July 2013, article by Kash Cheong, Sunday Times
It is a chilling statistic. Last year, a boy became the first child in the five-to-nine age group to commit suicide here in at least 10 years.
“There are rarely any deaths in this age group because children do not understand the concept of death,” said psychiatrist Chia Boon Hock who has studied decades of suicide data in Singapore…”Some of them might think that death means closing your eyes, but you can wake up tomorrow…The coroner must have found evidence beyond doubt that this is a suicide.”
Seventeen teenagers aged 10 to 19 killed themselves last year, the second highest figure among this age group for the past five years, the Registry of Births and Deaths statistics also showed. In 2009, the figure was 19.
Not only is it a chilling statistic, but it’s probably also one too distressing or unbelievable to report to the public when the boy’s suicide occurred last year. God knows what a child is thinking when he decides to end his life, but this is one act of extreme defiance that will haunt his parents forever. Instead of hushing up an unthinkable tragedy, someone needs to look into how a society like ours triggers self-destructive thoughts in children, who either have no understanding of what death is, or believe in the sweet euphemism that is heaven and the afterlife. Parents, think twice before telling your kid that Grandma or his dead hamster is in a ‘better place’.
In 2000 and 2001, a total of 12 children between 10 and 14 years old killed themselves in Singapore, then one of the highest rates of child suicide in the world. One of them, 10 year old Lysher Loh, believed to be stressed out from schoolwork, jumped to her death. Lysher had previously joked about suicide if her CHINESE grades didn’t improve. She was Primary 5. In the 1990s, a 9 year old boy hung himself in a bathroom in Ang Mo Kio during the mid-year school holidays (Boy, nine, found hanged in bathroom, 12 June 1992, ST). According to a book titled ‘Suicide in Asia and the Near East‘, a SEVEN-YEAR old committed suicide between 1969-1976.
Incidents of completed suicides among the very young may be very rare, but I believe many kids have at least thought about it in secret. In 1985, SOS received a call from a boy below 10 who wanted to die. He was believed to be influenced by a show called ‘A Dawn in Winter’, which depicted a girl signing a suicide pact with a friend. 4 years later, a parent explained to the ST Forum that they were migrating to Australia because her 9 year old son hated Chinese and wanted to kill himself over it. In 2008, helpline for kids Tinkle Friend reported a distraught LOWER PRIMARY kid who did very well for her exams, but still failed to satisfy her parents who expected a result BETTER than 90%. Today, a child may be considered a suicide risk if he suffers from a mental disorder, or gets a Facebook account before puberty and becomes a victim of cyberbullying. Not many in the field would point their fingers at ridiculously demanding parents.
As hard as it is to prevent children from leaping off buildings, it’s about time we reflect on how we’re educating our kids, examine the root of pediatric mental disorders and what society’s and families’ expectations of children are. We can no longer wait until our moody 7 year olds start drawing and sticking bloody images of death on their bedroom walls anymore.