Parent-child relationships key, expert says after Instagram suicide poll

The Mental Health Association of Sarawak urges internet users to exercise responsible social media use.

KUCHING: An academic has urged parents to keep a closer watch over their children, in the wake of reports that a teenager in Sarawak committed suicide after holding an Instagram poll on whether she should live or die.

Speaking to FMT, Mariani Mohd Nor from Universiti Malaya said parental supervision must begin from an early age, not just when children have reached adolescence.

She said parents should also understand their children’s behaviour, emotions and even sexuality.

“Just being firm towards your children is not effective because this will cause them to express their thoughts and feelings through different channels such as social media, which could lead to negative impacts,” she added.

It was reported that the victim jumped from the top of a shophouse after 69% of respondents asked her to choose “death”.

Sarawak police said she had put up the poll with the question, “Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L”, hours before committing suicide on May 13.

Mariani, an expert in mental health, said cases of teenage suicide are not new in Malaysia and occur in other countries as well.

“The situation cannot be taken lightly,” she said. “It is going to happen again. (But) there must be a reason why this happened.

Universiti Malaya’s Mariani Mohd Nor.

“Where were her parents? Where was everyone around her? This is why the relationship between parents and children is important.”

She added that suicide cases are not necessarily linked to mental health issues.

“It would be too judgmental to say that someone who commits suicide was suffering from a mental illness,” she said, noting that stress is a factor in some cases.

She said social media users who might not know the victim personally could also make provoking statements which could lead to a negative outcome.

Mental Health Association of Sarawak adviser Wee Hong Seng said there should be guidelines for the usage of social media, which many use as a platform to express their thoughts.

“Those who happen to come across suicidal posts by those they know on social media should advise them to seek professional help instead of giving out provoking statements,” he said.

Mental Health Association of Sarawak adviser Wee Hong Seng.

“Some people could assume that certain posts are a joke. (But) it’s important for people to engage in responsible social media use.”

He, too, urged parents and teachers to watch out for signs of behavioural change in teens.

“Some parents avoid taking their children to the doctor for fear of embarrassment. They don’t want their children to be treated as insane.”

But there is nothing wrong with consulting doctors over sudden behavioural change in their children, he added.

“Don’t wait until it gets worse. It could take away a life.”

He also advised parents not to put too much pressure on their children to excel in academics or sports.

Sarawak Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Fatimah Abdullah meanwhile said teachers should be made aware of signs of depression among teenagers to facilitate early intervention.

She also suggested a social media helpline run by registered counsellors to provide teenagers with a platform to express their problems.