Mental health – A collective responsibility

The country has drawn its attention to the suicide of the 16-year-old teenager in Batu Kawa, Sarawak. The case drew headlines, perhaps because of the way social media was used to determine the fate of that young girl. There have been calls for investigation and education. But little has been said about what exactly needs to be done, after this case fizzles, to address this growing problem in a long run.

In Subang Jaya, I am made aware of two suicides this month. The reality is that my constituency averages one to two suicide or attempted suicides since May 2018 when I took office. The persons involved are usually between 14-29 years old. That is not to say that those outside that age range are not affected. In fact, my office knows of one case of an elderly person who took his/her life.

In some cases, I find out that the person who took his/her are not residents of Subang Jaya. A lot travel here for work or study. More so the latter, given that we host 5 private universities – Sunway University, Monash University, Taylor’s University and SEGi College. My point here is that this problem may be more prominent here, but equally existent in other areas.

In this article I would like to propose three practical steps that can be taken to address mental illness:-

  1. All quarters must first realise that mental health is a collective responsibility. Families should not dismiss the problem as arising from the workplace or school. In the same way, employers and teachers should not dismiss the problem given that self-harm and signs of mental illness usually takes place at home. We have a collective responsibility to foster wellness, and to look out for one another.
  2. All persons who have high people-contact must seek training to better equip themselves with knowledge of how to identify mental illness and where to seek help. I’m referring to front liners such as community leaders, religious leaders, employers, teachers, government service centres, the police, firemen. On this score my office has set up a mental health task force where we roll out training on suicide prevention and wellness – programmes that are tailored by mental health professionals. Todate, we have trained 43 community leaders. We will also be launching a “seek help” infographic very soon, which will be useful for the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur residents.
  3. The government must come on board with more cogent policies. There are two things that need immediate attention – first, decriminalising attempted suicide as a crime and setting up a Standard Operating Procedure within the police force to lead the attempter to help. Second, push for insurance coverage for mental illness. AIA in Singapore has announced insurance coverage for major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome. Insurance coverage would immediately do a few things – one, it will make medical help more accessible as private hospitals would likely branch out into psychiatric services. This would also offload a lot of pressure faced in public hospitals; two, it removes financial barrier – paying for medication to cope with mental illness is costly; three, is also plays a part in raising awareness and destigmatisation.

In closing this article, and as a young person myself, I would like to end with a message to my peers. In a world where perfection is lauded, we need to learn to celebrate failures. Failures are opportunities unique to us – no one else would be able to experience it. Failures gives us a stepping stone upwards, an opportunity which no one else has. Remember – mountains rise when there are earthquakes, and they become smaller under their own weight. If you fail, really, others should be jealous of you, because when you get through them, trust me, you will be much stronger.

Media statement by Michelle Ng Mei Sze in Subang Jaya on Thursday, 16th May 2019