Teen gets 8 weeks' jail after 13 suicide attempts

SINGAPORE - Ever since she was in Secondary 1, Kathleen Seah Pei Yi has been trying to kill herself.

On Thursday, the 18-year-old received an eight-week jail sentence - believed to be the longest handed down in Singapore for attempted suicide.

However, she was allowed to return home to her anxious family because the term was backdated to Sept 26, the day she was taken into custody.

The teenager, who is of low intelligence and suffers from a personality disorder, made 13 suicide attempts between August last year and September, the court heard.

After the first 10 tries, her family called the police because they believed it was the only way to keep her safe.

She then spent 31/2 months remanded in custody before a judge placed her on a year's probation, on condition that she sought treatment at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

But on Sept 2, three days after she was released, she tried to kill herself again, before going on to make two more attempts. On Thursday, she was handed the eight-week jail sentence after pleading guilty to three charges.

The court heard that police received a message on Sept 16 which said: "I overdose of medication." When officers arrived at Seah's home in Toa Payoh at about 9.40pm, they found she had taken a large number of pills. They also noticed a strong smell of gas in the kitchen. The teenager was rushed to hospital.

Her father, lorry driver Seah Keow Yew, told The Straits Times that she was transferred to the IMH four days later, and discharged on the same day.

When he and his daughter returned home that evening, she tried to kill herself again. Mr Seah, 58, then alerted the police at about 8.45pm. They arrived at his three-room HDB flat and found his daughter sitting on the kitchen floor. Again, the entire flat was filled with a strong smell of gas.

"I was forced to call the police on her," Mr Seah said in Mandarin. "Which father would want to see his child arrested? I had no choice. I was at my wits' end. Only the police could save her."

He said he did not know why his daughter wanted to commit suicide, but recalled her first attempt when she was in Secondary 1.

"I had a quarrel with my wife as she was upset with me going to church with my daughter," he said. "My wife is a Taoist. I believed my daughter felt guilty for being the cause of our fight, and tried to take her own life by drinking a whole bottle of cough syrup. My wife and I were shocked, and we have since stopped fighting over our different religions."

But his daughter did not stop trying to kill herself. And her subsequent suicide attempts led her to drop out of secondary school and the Institute of Technical Education.

At the last hearing in August, District Judge Shaifuddin Saruwan said he had thought long and hard before placing Seah on probation - despite the fact she had not been found suitable for it.

She was also not found suitable for a mandatory treatment order, but the judge said he was convinced that medical treatment was what she required.

After she breached her probation, she was given the jail sentence, which consisted of four weeks for each of the five charges she was convicted of. Three of the terms were to run concurrently, with two running consecutively.

On Thursday, Judge Shaifuddin told Seah: "It is very sad that you did not take the chance that this court has given you. I still want to urge you to seek treatment. Do you understand?" She replied: "Yes."

Her father told The Straits Times: "I am very happy to be able to fetch my daughter home tonight. But I am also very worried that she would try to take her life again.

"I hope that she would have reflected on her actions when she was in remand, and she would be more sensible now. I hope she can find a job soon to keep herself occupied and lead a normal life. My daughter is actually very adorable, and I love her very much.

"I just don't know what happened that she would try to end her life. I am willing to do anything to keep her alive."

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