You & Your Family

When the will to go on is lost

Within the same week in the past month, the media reported the separate suicides of two well-known personalities—Kate Spade, a fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef.

The tragedy of suicide leaves behind many loved ones and friends in confusion and distress. Experts estimate that for every self-inflicted death, six people are left behind whose lives will never be the same.

In the course my work, I have seen that those who take their own lives are desperate for a way to end their deep emotional pain, which is sometimes difficult for others to see and comprehend. Instead of belittling their suffering, we must empathise with them and encourage them to give life and hope a chance.

The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) reported that in 2016, 429 people took their lives. The actual figure may be higher, as some cases of suicide may have been classified as accidental deaths. If you might know of someone in despair, you should ask them to speak with a trusted church pastor or a counsellor call the SOS.

A fair amount of suicidal ideation goes undetected till it is too late. Some suicides are seemingly spontaneous ones that are attempted without much premeditation. There are also those who unintentionally kill themselves whilst participating in high-risk behaviour.

To those who have lost loved ones to suicide: I hope that you will be able to stop punishing yourself. Things only look clearer with the benefit of hindsight. It is impossible to prevent every suicidal tragedy from happening. Many parents, loved ones, church workers and social work professionals carry heavy burdens of guilt for not having been alert or responsive enough to the needs of the deceased.

They should, instead, live their lives free from the pain and sadness that plagued those who have gone. This may be easier said than done, but if you believe in a spiritual dimension, in the reality that we have a transcendental existence, then live in the full knowledge that those who have gone before are ever aware of what we do here on earth.

I tell my clients, who have lost loved ones to suicide, that the “light at the end of the tunnel” may appear as a distant glimmer only after a year or so has passed. Some look blankly into the distance, while others say, “I hope so.” Picking up the pieces of one’s life cannot be rushed. There is no timetable for recovery.

But life slowly seeps back. Amongst the critical conditions for recovery are the hope for relief, the desire to rebuild, the unwavering support of loved ones and friends, and the continuing emotional investment in things of importance that remain.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

Samaritans of Singapore 24-hour crisis hotline: 1800-221-4444
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call the 24-hour emergency medical services at 995 or approach your nearest A&E.

Photo by AnatolEr/