Unlike what most people think, suicide prevention is not a responsibility held only by mental health professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists.
Members of the public, too have a role to play in saving the lives of those who have lost hope in life.
Today, September 10, is recognised as World Suicide Prevention Day and this year, the theme is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide.”
This theme has been around for the past two years and will probably continue into the next year; emphasising the fact that one group of people alone cannot help to prevent suicide.
The demand for mental health care in Malaysia has stretched the resources of well-intentioned and hard working mental health professional thin.
While laypersons cannot deal with mental ailments and conditions in the manner professionals do, they still can do much to help the mentally and emotionally troubled to keep their spirits up and prevent thought of self-harm.
Statistics on suicide are alarming
Statistics on suicide are heart-wrenching: In Malaysia, at least five people kill themselves daily; about 1,760 preventable deaths a year.
On a global scale, there are over 800,000 deaths by suicide, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.
Academics state that these are conservative estimates and the true number of suicides are probably twice those numbers.
For each tragic suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected.
More alarming is that for every successful suicide death, 25 people attempt suicide and fail and many more have serious thoughts of suicide.
125 Malaysians attempt suicide daily
That translates to at least 125 depressed and desperate Malaysians trying to kill themselves every day.
Professional help is required by people with such a mental state, but Malaysian mental health professionals simply cannot cope with the sheer number of patients.
There are 400 psychiatrists in Malaysia, with each one having to treat about 80,000 persons, while the ratio for clinical psychologists stands at 0.2 per 100,000 individuals.
The World Health Organisation recommended number for a country is one psychiatrist to treat every 10,000.
Various relevant ministries acknowledge the importance of mental health care and have extensive programmes to address the issue.
The Education Ministry is already carrying out screening in schools for depression, anxiety and stress and giving students the help they need.
Get in touch with the Befrienders if you are depressed or suicidal
Preventive programmes that engage parents and the public in mental health care are also under way with the Health Ministry planning programmes and policies for the 2019- 2025 period.
They will target common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and stress, before people experiencing these lose the will to live.
The Communication and Multimedia Ministry supports suicide prevention efforts by getting major telcos in the country to provide free calls to The Befrienders, a 24/7 suicide prevention helpline.
Many people who get in touch with The Befrienders are now more willing to openly share their difficulties in struggling with suicidal thoughts, mental illnesses and emotional problems.
People who try to seek help or even talk about mental health issues in personal or public conversations unfortunately get stigmatised.
The government, academia, the medical profession and civil society are working together to improve mental healthcare.
However, all of this is not enough due to the sheer scale of the problem.
One in three Malaysians are experiencing mental health problems.
Everyone needs to be part of the prevention and the solution to decreasing suicides.
Here are several things you can do daily to prevent suicidal behaviour:
• Raise awareness about the issue by speaking freely and openly about mental health and suicide
• Educate yourself and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs of suicide
• Show compassion and care for those who are in distress in your family, workplace community
• Learn how to listen to and talk with a troubled person (Not tell them what to do!). Provide a non-judgemental listening ear. This goes a long way.
• Question the stigma associated with suicide, suicidal behaviour and mental health problems. It is good to seek professional mental health care. Talking about it won’t “cause” anyone to be suicidal; instead it gives them relief that they are allowed to let it out, and that they are taken seriously.
• Share your own experiences. You yourself may need help. Be bold, and reach out.There are a lot of people waiting to give a helping hand.
Working together, we can all make a difference and prevent suicide.
The Befrienders KL provides emotional support to those feeling depressed or suicidal via a 24-hour toll-free helpline at 03-79568145 or email [email protected]