LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 9pm

Suicide Is The 2nd Leading Cause of Death Among Youth - A Closer Look At The Situation In Malaysia

The story of suicide is as old as mankind's history and has been variously romanticized and condemned, triggering many moral debates as well as being immortalized in literature.

At a glance, suicide seems to transcend culture, religion and ethnicity as its existence spans global civilizations dating back centuries. If we look at the situation globally today, suicide accounts for about 800,000 deaths annually, according to World Health Organization data up to 2012. More significantly, their statistics indicate that 20 times of that number attempt suicide annually.

Just to put things in perspective, WHO data show that the top five countries with highest suicide rates are Guyana, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Swaziland and Russia with rates ranging from 32.5 to 25.3 people per 100,000 of the population and Malaysia's rate is recorded as 0.6 per 100,000 as a matter of comparison.

However, the encouragingly low figure posted for Malaysia could also be attributed to a lack of data available as traditionally for a developing nation, the government focuses more on economic and technological development rather than mental and social welfare, which are areas that directly influence the percentage of suicide cases locally.

Another alarming fact revealed by the WHO statistics is that suicide jumps to the second leading cause of death when looking specifically at youths, among 15-29 year old globally in 2012.

When we zoom in on the local cases of suicide, another factor emerges – that youths from certain ethnic groups are more prone to suicide.

What Do We Know Of Suicide Among Youth In Malaysia

In a study published in the Asia-Pacific Psychiatry journal in June this year, the findings show that the suicide rate among youths was 1.03 per 100,000 populations in 2009, accounting for the male gender (66.0%), with Indians being the highest suicide completers (40.4% and 5.6 per 100,000 populations).

The most common method of suicide was hanging (56.6%) followed by self-poisoning (15.1%), reports the study titled 'Suicide among the the youth in Malaysia: What do we know?”

In short, the highest incidence of suicide among youths in Malaysian appear to be male and of Indian descent.

FilePic: prezi.comFilePic: prezi.comIs there a reason for Indian youths making up the majority of suicide cases when their population as a whole is not the majority race in Malaysia?

In addition, the Indian population also make up the largest percentage of Malaysians who attempt suicide, according to the article “Suicide Attempts in Malaysia from the Year 1969 to 2011” published in The Scientific World Journal in 2014.

The article which discusses research on suicide attempts in Malaysia from the year 1969 to 2011 revealed that Indians had the highest suicide attempt rates at 3.67per 100,000, followed by the Chinese at 2.44 per 100,000 and Malays had lower rates of 0.32 per 100,000.

The researchers highlighted some of their key findings as below.

“Some of the risk factors among Malaysian Indians which could explain the higher number of suicide attempts in this group including poverty (a majority of Indians are from the lower social class), alcoholism (this problem is the highest among the Indian ethnic group and it is well known as a contributory factor to the development of depression as well as ranking high as a risk factor for suicide), psychiatry morbidity, caste issues, other social distress, cultural and religious factors, and attitude to suicide.

“On the other hand, it is much more difficult for Muslims Malays to attempt suicide since it is against their religion. Education also contributed to some differences; 89% of the studies showed that suicide attempters had secondary level of education compared to primary and tertiary.”

Just this year alone, some high-profile suicide cases that grabbed media headlines involved Malaysian Indians. In May, a journalist who works with a local Tamil news daily had jumped in front of a Komuter train coming from Batu Caves to the Batu Cantonment station and was instantly killed, with the gruesome image of the dismembered victim going viral online.

Another sensational suicide case involved a viral video purportedly recorded by a woman who threatened revenge from her grave before committing suicide to be followed by her one-year-old daughter's death on the same weekend.

Talk to any Malaysian Indian family and more likely than not, at least one family member knows of an acquaintance or relative who has attempted suicide. Remember the death of local Tamil drama actress K Sujatha which made headlines in Tamil dailies, Malaysia Namban and Makkal Osai in July 2007. The aspiring actress at that time had supposed died after consuming the weedkiller, paraquat over a broken love affair.

If we look in Indian literary, religious and cultural heritage, suicide is mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharata and variously condemned and stipulated in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, according to an article titled 'Suicide: An Indian Perspective” published in the Oct-Dec 2012 Indian Journal of Psychiatry, referring among others to the infamous suicide contained in our Hindu Vedas recounting the practice of 'sati, the burning of the widow on her husband’s pyre. This tradition has its roots back to Rajput, India.

Is there any truth to the link between suicide with race or ethnicity in this context? Malaysian Digest speaks to Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk M. Saravanan who offers his views on issues faced by youths in Malaysian Indian communities today.

Empowering Youth To Overcome Social Ills

Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk M. SaravananDeputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk M. SaravananAccording to Datuk Saravanan who is also MIC vice-president, suicide in real life is not that easy and individuals who attempt it must be desperate and driven to it by great pressure.

“People say they are cowards to do that but actually it takes lots of guts to kill themselves.

“Many of us in real life, I don’t think we can do that.

“It’s just that they are not guided properly. Every problem can be solved. But there is no proper guidance for those who are facing it and they feel they don’t have an option”.

Apart from that, Datuk Saravanan also expressed that financial constraint plays a big role in contributing to youths to develop low self-esteem and lose hope in their country and political leaders.

He also gave an example of the viral video of a law graduate who shared a bitter disappointment with working life in the big city after earning her degree , where even a graduate can’t afford to buy a decent property in city, especially landed properties which is worth more than half a million with the salary he gets.

“The amount they spend to complete a degree is about 20-60, 000 but the salary you get upon completing your studies is not sufficient to even pay back your loan. Might as well you spend that money to do business where you can get returns”.

There is always this dilemma where people blame the Tamil film industry for influencing the Indian community to behave inappropriately. What they depict in a movie is always based on KARMA, where you start bad, you end bad.

Datuk Saravanan acknowledged that there may be a 5-10% of influence that leads to worshipping the actors (hero) but definitely not to blame them for suicide.

What can motivate youths to avoid the social traps that lead to suicide?

“Proper education, religious guidance and economic empowerment. Definitely having financial constraint will make people forego some essentials in daily life which can have negative repercussions. The government has to assist the youth to earn a realistic income” said Datuk Saravanan.

Talking about financial constraint, how can youths avoid or escape that vicious cycle? Does the government have plans for the youths to overcome it?

Datuk Saravan drew attention to an existing programme targeted for the Indian community called the New Affirmative Action Movement (NAAM) which aims to empower Indian youth’s economic status.

The main objective is to create entrepreneurs mainly in the field of agriculture and others fields that are more accessible to Malaysian Indian communities such as automobile, megatronics, oil and gas, and etc.

“Initially, the government allocated 37 million, we have received 19 million so far, as of 2014. Till today we have created 109 entrepreneurs in the field of agriculture. We also have another 500 pending as we are still waiting for funding from the government” he explained.

He also said that the funding allocated by the government in this manner for only specific programmes is a drawback. He also feels that they can reach further to people from rural areas and the estates and plantations if there is a permanent funding from the government on Malaysian Indian youth outreach programmes for the rural communities.

Apart from NAAM, other programmes are available for the youths to engage themselves.

The popular ones are Institut Kemahiran Belia dan Negara (IKBN), where they have 20 centres around Malaysia, Kolej Komuniti, and Malaysian Indian Football Association (MIFA).

He stressed that Malaysia is the only country where anybody can survive. 3 million foreign workers are surviving and sending money back to their family. Youths just need the right guidance to upgrade their lifestyle.

In conclusion, he shared a word of wisdom with Malaysian Indian youths by stressing that “succeeding is not a difficult task, it is not easy either.
“All successful people have definitely sacrificed. If you look at the success story of our country, the foundation was built up by our grandparent’s hard work to develop it. Basically nothing comes easy. In Malaysia, it is not difficult to be rich, all you need is hard work”.

How Many Of Them Actually Seek Help?

Publicity Director of Befrienders, Ardy AyadaliPublicity Director of Befrienders, Ardy AyadaliBefrienders KL recorded approximately 20,000 contacts overall from phone calls, email and face to face cases in 2014, Ardy Ayadali, the publicity director of Befrienders told Malaysian Digest. Ardy also highlighted that relationships, psychiatric and family issues are the top three concerns among callers.

25% of contacts expressed intention to commit suicide, while nearly half of all email contacts did so. That practically means that 1 out of 4 who contacted Befrienders had suicidal tendencies.

Based on their statistics, the majority who contacted Befrienders are from the Chinese community, followed by Malay and Indian individuals.

“I personally feel that race and ethnicity are not key factors when it comes to feeling suicidal. Human being mainly have their breaking point, or limits, and when pushed to the limits, some might break and decide to take their own life. It's about shutting out the pain that they are feeling inside, permanently” said Befriender’s representative, said Ardy when contacted.

“It's very hard to deduce much from that, as we feel that our reach is not very extensive, and not everyone who is troubled or suicidal make the attempts to contact us,” he observed. Researchers in past studies have also highlighted the discrepancy in available data of individuals who are successful in their self-murder attempt as opposed to the percentage who attempt suicide but are not successful or have reached out for help to NGOs like Befrienders.

According to a scientific paper published by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) titled “Half a Century of Suicide Studies - a Plea for New Directions in Research and Prevention”, Prof. Dr Thambu Maniam from the Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, UKM had highlighted some statistics in relation to percentages of suicidal completers as opposed to suicide ideation and the link to ethnicity.

Pic:Department of Psychiatry, UKM Pic:Department of Psychiatry, UKM

“Numerous studies in this country from the 1960s onwards have consistently shown that some sections of the community appear to be at particularly high risk.

“Reviews of the literature, by Morris and Maniam (2001) and more recently by Aishvarya et al. (2013), point to the almost invariable finding that Indians in this country show disproportionately high rates of suicide and attempted suicides, followed closely by the Chinese.

“Two studies covering a 20-year period in the relatively isolated community of Cameron Highlands revealed alarmingly high rates of suicides among the Indian population (Maniam 1988, 1994). In the first of these studies it was found that Indians had much higher suicide rates than are usually reported anywhere in the world”.

The study also pointed out that when it came to statistics for suicide ideation, the ethnic composition differs.

“A more recent, albeit small, study among depressed inpatients found that the Chinese seemed to have the highest risk of attempted suicide (Chan et al. 2011). This is an unexpected finding as it differs from older studies which seemed to consistently show that Indians had the highest risk of suicidal behaviour.”

This could lead to the results recorded by Befrienders of receiving more cases of those seeking help for suicidal tendencies from the Chinese community as their suicidal thoughts are countered by reaching out for help as opposed to the Indian community who either do not seek help or lack access to channels to reach out for help when overcome by suicidal tendencies.

FilePic: cj.myFilePic: cj.myBefrienders strongly believes in creating awareness to counter the prevailing helplessness faced by most victims.

“Creating awareness is key - where we tell people who are suicidal that they don't have to suffer alone, and that help is available. You'll be surprised that just by listening to our callers venting their feelings and telling you their stories, it reduces their suicidal intention. But it is important to listen to them non-judgmentally, and be very warm and caring.

Ardy emphasized that Befrienders continues to work with the relevant authorities to ensure they provide an effective support system to those in need in their mission to alleviate distress and help reduce the risk of suicide through emotional support and public education. They also work closely with the Minister of Health when it comes to Mental Health awareness.

“As far as I know, Befrienders are the only NGO in Malaysia that advocates publicly for suicide prevention, and our centre in KL does it 24/7. That means help is available at any time of the day. Of course, the challenge is great, because suicide and mental health issues are still quite a taboo when it comes to Malaysia. But we are slowly removing the stigma associated with it, and increasing the awareness among the community” he concluded.

-Malaysian Digest