WORKING TOGETHER TO PREVENT SUICIDE
SEPT 10, 2019 @ 7.02PM
You can help prevent suicide! Yes, you, the lay person, the man or woman on the streets of Malaysia, are a key player, and not just the psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and lay helpers in NGOs. You can make a difference – as a member of society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbour.
This is what this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) theme is pleading for: “Working Together to Prevent Suicide”; that everyone needs to be involved. This has been the theme for the past two years and will continue till next year too. It only emphasizes the fact that no one group of people can help to prevent suicide, and the so-called “professionals”, however well-intentioned and hardworking, cannot cope with the demand for mental health care in our country.
The lay person cannot deal with mental illnesses in the way the medical and mental health professionals can. But there is so much that can be done to help those who are troubled and despairing so that they do not deteriorate to the point of hopelessness and wanting to end their lives.
125 attempt suicide everyday
The statistics are stark and heart-wrenching. Worldwide, there are over 800,000 deaths by suicide, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds. In Malaysia, on average there are five deaths by suicide everyday with 1,760 in a year – too many since suicide is preventable.
This is a very conservative estimate based on the World Health Organization’s statistics of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population in Malaysia each year. While there are no clear official figures and records for definitive statistics in the country, academic researchers put the figures at more than twice that.
Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For each suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected.
The deaths in themselves are tragic. But further adding to the concern is that for every one suicide, 25 people attempt suicide and many more have suicide ideation. That means each day, 125 Malaysians attempt to kill themselves. These are people who initially felt anxious, stressed, depressed, a little helpless and struggled on to the point of great unbearable despair and hopelessness.
One psychiatrist per 80,000 patients
Suicide is the result of a convergence of genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss. In many cases there is the absolute need to see a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor, and this professional help needs to be hand in hand with the emotional support of people around the person with a mental health problem.
The professionals alone cannot cope. We have about 400 psychiatrists in the whole country, i.e. one psychiatrist to treat every 80,000 persons, while the ratio for clinical psychologists stands at 0.2 per 100,000 individuals. WHO’s recommended number for a country is one psychiatrist to treat every 10,000.
Programmes by individual ministries
The various ministries for welfare, health and youth are well aware of the importance of mental health care and have extensive programmes to address the issue. The Education Ministry has already been carrying out screening in schools for depression, anxiety and stress and giving students the help they need. More preventive programmes are being planned to instill resilience in youth, including engaging parents and the public in mental health care.
The Ministry of Health is underway with programmes and policies for the 2019-2025 period, targeting common mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and stress before people experiencing these become helpless, hopeless and ultimately suicidal.
Even the Communication and Multimedia Ministry has shown support for suicide prevention efforts in getting major telcos in the country to provide free calls to The Befrienders - a 24/7 suicide prevention helpline. Many of the people who get in touch with The Befrienders are now more willing to openly share their difficulties in struggling with suicidal thoughts, mental illnesses as well as emotional pain from a variety of life problems.
A stigma nevertheless remains for many in reaching out to get help and in talking about mental health issues and suicide in personal or public conversations. The government, academia, the medical profession and civil society are working to improve mental health care, and further perhaps need to work collaboratively, in a coordinated fashion, using a multidisciplinary approach. But even all of this is not enough due to the sheer scale of the problem.
There are several things that you can do daily to prevent suicidal behavior:
Working together, we can all make a difference and prevent suicide.
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