As Malaysia braces herself to morph into becoming the next Tiger of Asia, there exists a dark and disturbing scenario of more and more Malaysians who are unable to cope with stress, unable to cope with rejection and discrimination, unable to cope with stigmatization of being mental health sufferers and the inability to communicate or cry out of help when they need it, and as a result take their own lives.
And even more disturbing is that there exists an upward trend of teenage and juvenile suicides, between the ages 13 to 17 globally in countries. Many may think that this phenomenon prevails most in war torn countries, but this is happening in our own backyard. Malaysia, with its population of almost 32 million bears a sad witness to this trend that 10% of youths are suicidal. That translates to 3.2 million youngsters, the future of our country at risk of taking their own lives. 79% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries according to WHO but this trend is slowly changing as more and more young people in developed or high income nations find that suicide is a way out for all their woes and problems as they battle with their demons inside and out.
Suicide is one most controversial, and ironically, the least talked about global disaster, as it is greatly linked to mental health disorders. Suicide is now one of the top 10 leading causes of death apart from non-communicable diseases and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 29 years old.
News on suicide has been all over our news, the black hands of depression, stress and mental health culling away lives as young as adolescent school children to fathers and mothers unable to cope with their situation that can be combination of factors such as life tragedies, financial problems, substance abuse, growing up with a violent or in a violent environment, social and psychological problems relationship problems and mental disorders, and not knowing where to seek for help.
These days, suicide rates have become more prevalent amongst vulnerable groups who are constantly facing and experiencing discrimination and prejudice like refugees and migrants; indigenous people; the LGBTI persons and prisoners, especially those on death row.
The Ministry of Health Malaysia has committed itself to be in a partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) through a Malaysia–WHO Country Cooperation Strategy 2016–2020that will guide collaboration on health for a period of 5 years between Malaysia and WHO.
Mental health issues remain as one of the prominent topics mentioned in the report but the burning question is, with one year away, how much of that has the Government achieved.
With one person dying every 40 seconds and 800,000 people being victims of suicide every year, the Government must now step in to ensure that suicide prevention and mental health becomes an issue that not shrouded in secrecy, shame and taboo. The more places of worship, schools, universities and advertisements on suicide prevention is seen in public places, the less the stigma, the less the controversy and this will surely help with people suffering with mental health or suicidal tendencies to seek and obtain early help.
One of the landmark achievements by the Pakatan Harapan Government to be a part of suicide prevention was to award a toll-free status for all call made to Befrienders, one of the pioneer counselling bodies in the country that is self-sustained and supported by the public. This courageous and timely move by the Ministry of Multimedia and Communications is a reflection of the commitment by the Government to create a safe space for all Malaysians, including our young who are facing more obstacles and pressure now than before. Not forgetting the constant and consistent publicity by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development on numbers to call if you need help and that no one should suffer in silence.
The theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide”, focusing on smart partnerships amongst government agencies and non-governmental agencies and comes at a time to remind Governments of the power they have and the critical role it can play with civil society and religious groups in being a body offering comfort, counsel and aid instead of being judge, jury and executioner.
In Malaysia an attempt on suicide is deemed a crime under Section 305, 306 and 309 of the Penal Code and one can be charged if one is found to want to take a life or abetting in the act. What the Government can do to be an accessory to the solution and not the problem is to decriminalise suicidal attempts and instead offer counselling and psychiatric as well as psychological assessment to gauge the mental health of the sufferer. While the Attorney General’s Chambers are reviewing and making comparative studies on this, but the longer the wait, the more Malaysians are at risk of suicide and attempted suicide.
Although 10 September is the World Day on Suicide Prevention and much needs to be done for suicide prevention, however another date not to be forgotten is October 10 for the World Mental Health Day and the WHO has 3 preventive measures on suicide prevention which are to improve knowledge of what can be done to prevent suicide, to reduce the stigma associated with suicide; and to let people who are struggling know that they are not alone.
At the same time, reporting by media is also very important as there tends to be copycat behaviours emulating suicides that they read about with explicit details in the media. Access to the means of suicide must be also regulated like access to pesticides, firearms and also medications and drugs as well as reducing the cost of medication for various types of mental disorders.
Those suffering from problems or contemplating suicide are advised to contact the 24-hour Befrienders hotline at 05-547 7933 (Ipoh), 04-281 5161 (Penang) or 03-7956 8144 (Klang Valley) or email [email protected] Sneham Malaysia offers counselling as the first Tamil language based hotline for suicide prevention, and also in Malay and English at 1800-22-5757 from 4pm to 8pm. For Mandarin speakers, Life Line Association Malaysia’s hotline at 03-4265 7995 caters to a kind listening ear for those who need it.