Forum: There is no substitute for face-to-face contact in suicide prevention

I am happy that people can seek help more quickly by having easier access to emotional support, especially for people aged 10 to 29 in the high suicide risk group. These efforts include the Samaritans of Singapore’s Care Text messaging service via WhatsApp, a 24-hour hotline and an email liaison service.

But as Mr. Lai Yew Chan pointed out (Connecting with Others Is the Key to Mental Well-Being, October 12), there is often no substitute for face-to-face contact because the lines of Phone support may not work for everyone.

While we try to get as many people as possible to seek help, it can be easy to forget that the quality of the first contact with a support service is more important than the number of services available. If there is no viable substitute for face-to-face emotional support, we may need support services (including volunteer numbers) to be expanded to meet virtual and face-to-face settings.

If the initial virtual support results in more people accessing different levels of support, organizations like the Samaritans of Singapore could be overwhelmed.

In addition to seeking to improve the training of its volunteers, SOS may wish to consider implementing initiatives that reduce the risk of vicarious trauma to volunteers due to exposure to emotionally distressing information. This is particularly important if a limited number of volunteers are forced to handle more distress cases during abnormal times such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Researchers are now trying to use artificial intelligence to study who is likely to attempt suicide and when (Using smartphones to try to predict suicide, October 11). This could be a valuable tool to help volunteers and inexperienced clinicians in the preliminary assessment of people in need.

However, we must resist the temptation to dehumanize all facets of emotional support simply because we can avoid the discomfort and because it is convenient.

Instead, we must always keep in mind that it is having someone who acknowledges our emotional pain and walks with us that gives us the strength to overcome life’s adversities.

Victor Ho (Dr.)