Calling for Proper Training of SPF to Handle Attempted Suicide Cases in Singapore

Calling for Proper Training of SPF to Handle Attempted Suicide Cases in Singapore

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Haziqah Amellia started this petition to Singapore Police Force (SPF) and

Dear Singapore Police Force and the relevant authorities (Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Health), 

We are writing on behalf of many concerned citizens who are signing this petition. We would like to highlight the current process in which the police handles suicide cases in Singapore. 

According to the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 29 in Singapore (Samaritans of Singapore, 2021). This means that more young people are dying from suicide than from road accidents etc., which makes the issue of youth suicide a significant issue that requires attention. Suicide is a complex situation that can be attributed to a variety of factors, particularly at the youth level. The high incidence of suicide may also suggest the frequent exposure of the police in handling such cases. As such, the handling of such delicate situations by the police needs to be done with care and sensitivity to the person in crisis, but this was not the case for the incident recounted here (insert post link). 

There were many problematic issues in the incident, namely the use of guilt-tripping, the flawed communication of mental health and the entire insensitive interaction with the person in crisis. 

Guilt-tripping refers to making another person feel guilt or a sense of responsibility to change their behaviour or take a specific action. In the incident, the police officer on the phone made a casual conversation with the person in crisis about her reason for suicide and explicitly used her religion to guilt-trip her about how suicide is a sin in Islam. Such actions are very harmful and not helpful in such crises situations because they not only reinforce the consequences of suicide that contribute to the mental health stigma but also dismisses and trivializes the person’s experience. 

Moreover, the police officer’s casual nature in speaking to the suicidal person clearly shows the lack of care and sensitivity given to the person. This is very important because we need to recognize that people who are suicidal are going through a crisis and that these people would be going through some mental health struggles including mental health conditions, trauma etc, that would contribute to them resorting to suicide. These instances of mishandling of suicide cases could lead to the grave consequence of potentially re-traumatizing the individual. 

People who are going through suicide need to be reminded that they are valued and loved, and deserve to feel that their life is worth living for their own sake, not because of other reasons. This needs to be reflected during the training of police officers to handle such delicate and sensitive situations. 

Flawed Communication of Mental Health  
During the incident, the person in crisis attempted to explain her situation to the police officer. However, the police officer had appeared to generalise the situation as he was relaying the information to other colleagues over the walkie-talkie (due to personal reasons, the exact explanation is not concealed here, for more info, please reach out to the contact person at the end). 

The way the police officer had relayed the information highlights a gap in the knowledge of basic mental health literacy. This is very harmful and damaging insofar that such generalizable remarks not only perpetuate the mental health stigma but discounts the efforts of many individuals and organizations who have been trying to progress the mental health scene. 

Insensitive Interaction
Lastly, the entire interaction with the person in crisis was not given due care and sensitivity. In early 2020, suicide was decriminalized i.e. police officers are not allowed to arrest people for attempting suicide. The police have a legal obligation to bring the person in crisis to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to seek help. This is understood to be the standard protocol for police officers in handling suicide cases. 

However, in the process of interacting with the person in crisis and sending the person to IMH, the process of interaction does not demonstrate the level of care and sensitivity needed to support a person in crisis. The incident described demonstrates that the police at the incident were only concerned with getting the job done i.e. sending the person to IMH and not taking proper care of the person. Moreover, in the process of bringing the person to IMH (transport in the police vehicle), this belies that suicide has been decriminalized because, from the perspective of the suicidal person, it feels like he/she is indeed getting arrested for being suicidal. The police officers at the incident may not have intentionally chosen to behave in such a manner as it can be understood from their job scope is to behave in an authoritative manner to deter crime and safeguard the safety of Singaporeans. However, in the delicate issue of suicide, more needs to be done to specifically increase their knowledge and capacity to care and attend to the persons in crisis. While I understand that the police have a legal obligation to adhere to protocols in sending the person in crisis to IMH, mere blind adherence is not sufficient and there needs to be a more humane/affective component in interacting with the person, which shifts from reactive intervention to proactive prevention of suicide.

Our Appeal to the Authorities 

We would like to call for systemic reforms for the proper training of all police officers in the Singapore Police Force involved in handling suicide cases which include the following:

- Basic Mental Health Literacy 
- Crises Management and De-escalation skills 
- Peer supporting skills for Persons In Crises
- The important use of language towards persons in crises and 
- Most importantly, Trauma-Informed Care. 

The government has committed to many actions to address issues pertaining to mental health including suicide and while I commend those efforts, I believe that Singapore can do more to address this issue. The suggested knowledge and skills above would not just be important to provide psychological safety to the person in crisis, but also enhance the professionalism of the SPF. If implemented on a wider scale, such practices would be instrumental in preventing suicide. 

It takes a village to care for a person, and every life is precious. Even though there are complex factors that could contribute to suicide, we believe that we can do more on a community level to support persons going through suicide. We invite the authorities, specifically the SPF to consider enhancing its processes to safeguard the lives of suicidal individuals. 

If you would like to get in touch for more information about this case, you may contact Haziqah on Instagram (@thecrazpsychkid) or at directly. She would be more than happy to liaise with you and to keep the SPF accountable for this and to strengthen the current procedure of SPF in dealing with suicide cases. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Your prompt attention to this critical matter is greatly appreciated.

Concerned Citizens 

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