SINGAPORE: Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people aged between 10 and 29 in Singapore. Last year, 378 people took their own lives – nearly a third were in that age group.
This is one of the reasons the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) has set up a 24-hour WhatsApp service to help those in distress.
People who need help can text 9151 1767 for support via CareText, or call 1767 to reach the hotline.
Officially launched on Saturday (Sep 10), the service, called CareText, is manned by SOS’ trained volunteers and staff.
First piloted in July 2020 on limited hours, it widened its coverage to run 24/7 in January this year for a trial, before the official launch.
During a survey in 2020, some youths told SOS that there was a lack of suitable and trusted avenues for them to turn to, said Mr Phua Chun Yat, SOS’ chief operating officer.
“We thought (texting) would be a good platform to reach out to youths and try to reduce the barriers of help seeking, especially at a time where I think there was a lot of uncertainty, people were starting to stay at home because of the pandemic,” he explained.
Last month, SOS answered almost 1,800 chats – nearly triple the number of chats received in August 2021. During the trial, the non-profit organisation found that about 82 per cent of the people who messaged were aged 29 and below.
HOW IT WORKS
Those using CareText remain anonymous throughout the text conversation and the volunteer or staff member cannot see the phone numbers.
When a person accesses CareText, they will be first asked basic questions, such as gender, age group and their distress level.
“Those questions … help us kind of know who we are talking to,” explained Mr John Lam, senior manager of crisis support at SOS.
“After that, they are engaged by our trained volunteers and staff. We are using the same method that we are using for the hotline, but adapted for texting.
“Our volunteers practise active listening. It’s important we listen to their problems – the pain points.
“We do accept there are suicide risks, and we do ask them if they are contemplating suicide. The conversation can go as long as they want. The objective is to de-escalate the crisis they are facing at that point in time.”
There are currently about 100 CareText volunteers and all of them have undergone about six months of training.
These volunteers have to learn to understand each texter, reflect back on what they say and the emotions they are going through.
Texts come in throughout the day and peak from 4pm to 2am, Mr Lam said. Usually text chats last longer than phone calls, a service which SOS provides via a suicide prevention hotline. Some text correspondence can go on for more than an hour.