Wed01242018

LAST_UPDATEWed, 24 Jan 2018 9am

An Average Of 2,000 People Die From Suicide Each Year, See How You Can Play A Role In Preventing It

News of Linkin Park’s lead singer, Chester Bennington’s death recently on July 20 shocked the world. He was only 41 years old when he hung himself at his home and took away his own life, leaving behind his wife and six children.

But that is how suicide is – it comes without any warning. And World Health Organisation (WHO) claims every 40 seconds somebody dies by taking their own life.

Chester’s death is the latest in the string of celebrity suicides in recent years, most notably Robin Williams’ death in 2014, followed by Stone Temple Pilot’s frontman Scott Weiland in 2015, then one of Chester’s closest friends, Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell’s death in May.

Chris Cornell with Chester Bennington in their happier daysChris Cornell with Chester Bennington in their happier days

While news of their deaths were all tragic, one thing common among these celebrities is that they suffered from depression in spite of their status, wealth, and fame – spotlighting the seriousness of such conditions if gone untreated and the importance of addressing the problem head-on.

Chris Cornell hanged himself inside Room 1136 of the MGM Grand Casino Hotel. Photos released by Detroit PoliceChris Cornell hanged himself inside Room 1136 of the MGM Grand Casino Hotel. Photos released by Detroit Police

Mental health issues are still widely considered a taboo to talk about here in Malaysia, with some still feeling quite uncomfortable or too afraid to discuss the subject matter due to the social stigma attached to it – so they tend to brush it off as a miniscule problem and shy away from getting help.

This ultimately snowballs into a bigger problem as according to the National Mental Health And Morbidity survey, mental health problems are on the rise, with a reported 29.2 per cent of adults experiencing mental health problems in 2015 in our country, compared to only 10.7 per cent in 1996.

In the same year, WHO reported Malaysia’s suicide rate is 9.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 populations, with the average of 2,000 people dying by suicide every year.

Although the numbers are considered low compared to the global index, suicide is really a problem we can overcome before it is too little, too late.

Are Helplines Really Helping?

Families and friends affected are often left with the question of, “Why didn't we see it coming?" and "Could we have done something?."

While there is no way of knowing for sure what goes on in the minds of those who commit suicide, society does have a part to play to help make a difference in the lives of those suffering from mental health disorders, subsequently preventing suicide.

Befrienders has been a community that has helped citizens counter their suicidal thoughts by lending an ear though their helplines since the 1970s, modelled after Samaritans UK ,and run by volunteers.

Believing that every life is precious and suicide is preventable, Befrienders now has five branches in different states, namely in Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Melaka, Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

In light of the worrying state of suicide deaths that have been publicised off late, Malaysian Digest caught up with Mr Ardy Ayadali, the publicity director of Befrienders KL to get an insight how their 24-hour hotlines are really helping those who are in need of emotional support.

Ardy, the Publicity Director of Befrienders KLArdy, the Publicity Director of Befrienders KL“Befrienders has around 120 volunteers now. We conduct volunteer recruitment twice a year, as we need our hotlines to be well-manned to ensure that no calls are missed,” Ardy opens up adding that their services are complimentary, and offer absolute confidentiality, and non-judgemental support.

“We receive around 60-70 calls per day,” Ardy shared.

According to Befrienders 2016 statistics, they have received more than 24,000 calls in the year, and among them, 51 per cent are made up of Chinese callers, followed by Indians (20 per cent) and Malays (18 per cent).

Besides that, they also offer face-to-face consultations and are also available people to be contacted via email. Occasionally, they also have consulting psychiatrists present for consultations every now and then.

“For our face-to-face consultation sessions, it is only by appointment. Usually we encourage people to talk over the phone first, as some of them might be apprehensive about meeting due to fear of losing their anonymity.

“However, there are some people who prefer talking about their problems face-to-face, so they book for a session,” he further detailed.

“We received many calls/emails from children who are going through problems in life, especially depression or other types of mental illnesses, and when they try to talk to their parents about it, oftentimes they get brushed aside.

“The parents sometimes feel that the issue is not important enough, and they do not sought help or do not help their children at all. This leads to the child being reluctant to talk to their parents when they are faced with difficulties in life,” Ardy shared.

Suicide Survivor Speaks Up

Cathy, who had attempted suicide, spoke under condition of anonymity and shared with Malaysian Digest how she overcame her suicidal tendencies, thanks to Befrienders.

Her depression started when she was only 16 due to peer pressure in school.

“Back then, the pressure of school and friends and popularity got to me, and I started doubting my own will to live,” Cathy said, revealing she started experimenting with self-harm and started harbouring thoughts of suicide.

“It was really tough for me back then. I used to slash parts of my hand with a knife or a razor, and I started wearing long sleeve clothing everywhere I went. I felt like I just wanted to end it all.

“It happened all the time. For example when I was at school, I will get the urge, a small voice telling me that I should jump. While I’m crossing the road, the same voice will tell me to jump in front of the next car. It was hell,” she recounted.

But Cathy found Befrienders and admits that turning to the helpline made her find solace.


“Befrienders really helped me. Having someone to speak to and to talk to really helped me get through my problems.

“More than anything, Befrienders provided me with a safe space. A place where I feel wanted, and cared for,” said Cathy.

After a few phone call sessions, Cathy decided to come clean with her parents. And thankfully, her parents were really supportive, and sought professional help for her.

Now, although Cathy is still on medication, things are slowly looking up for her.

“I have my parents to talk to, and I also have friends who care for me. Sometimes I still feel the pangs of depression coming and going, but I have a solid support system in place now.

“And that’s the most important thing you can have when you are suicidal…a good support system,” she confessed.

It Is A Challenge Speaking With Suicidal People

File pic of a helpline voluteer. Source : GoogleFile pic of a helpline voluteer. Source : Google

Speaking to Ms Shazlin Karim, who became a Befrienders volunteer for six months, she shared with us some of the challenges faced during her duties dealing with callers who are suicidal.

“Basically my daily routine at Befrienders consists of answering phone calls, and listening to people who are in need of a shoulder to cry on or emotional support,” said Shazlin, lamenting that it really is not as easy as it seems.

As a volunteer Shazlin had to go through extensive training to be able to handle sensitive situations that may come with the job.

“We were put through various creative training cycles which includes possible real life situations to fine tune our listening and cognitive skill.

“We were also trained on how to listen, and how to respond appropriately. You have to understand that the callers are not our friends, so we cannot speak to them like friends. The crucial thing is to build up rapport so that the caller feels emotionally safe to speak.

“That’s a huge challenge. How we speak, the tone we use, and even the words we use will influence how the callers feel,” explained Shazlin.

While her duty is noble, Shazlin admits that being an emotional support system for people with mental health issues can get really stressful, and challenging as well.

“In the beginning, you will feel like you’re doing something meaningful because you’re helping people. But along the way, you tend to doubt yourself, and ask if what you said to a caller or your suggestions are the right choice.

“You also will get too involved in their problems to such an extent, that you might say things out of your own personal judgement or ego,” Shazlin confessed.

Befrienders KLBefrienders KL

Although she had to endure some tough times, Shazlin enjoyed helping others and more importantly learnt a few valuable lessons herself.

“From my time with Befrienders, I can share that the social stigma that exists within our community concerning suicide is a real issue, and can drive people away from getting the help they need badly.

“The experience has really humbled me. I am now more open-minded and accepting of people because of my experience. It taught me to re-evaluate what I should fret about, and what I shouldn’t,” Shazlin shared.

And while she believes that everyone should volunteer to help others as it can be a life-changing experience, she admits that it is not for everyone.

“I honestly think that everyone should have the opportunity to have this experience, but not everyone is qualified.

“In my opinion, empathy is not achieved when it doesn’t influence your character and mental growth, and that’s exactly what my time with Befrienders KL taught me,” Shazlin expressed.

Are The Public Getting Enough Awareness On Mental Health Issues?

Coincidentally while news of Chester’s death broke, a group of mental health experts were gathering at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching for the 29th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) in Kuching, Sarawak.

We managed to interview its organising chairman, Professor Dr Maniam Thambu, a consultant psychiatrist, who was previously a psychiatry professor at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre.

Professor Dr Maniam ThambuProfessor Dr Maniam Thambu

Despite the convention held in our country, the professor admits there is still a lack of empathy shown by Malaysians towards those who suffer from mental health issues due to the stigma and lack of awareness on the subject matter.

“A recent national survey indicated that 30 per cent of the Malaysian population has mental health issues.

“It costs millions to treat, millions more in lost productivity, and then there is the enormous suffering it causes to patients and their families and friends,” the retired psychiatrist elaborates.

Acknowledging that a stigma exists in our society, he shared his concern over the fact that it is preventing those who are in need of help to reach out and have their voices heard.

“Stigma prevents people from reporting and seeking medical help after attempting suicide and also reporting the death by suicide once it has occurred. That is the bigger side of the equation. Hence we should work to reduce if not eradicate such stigma,” he explained.

As an educator himself, the professor believes the best awareness to eradicate such stigma would be by educating our younger generation on mental health issues.

“The government, of course, has the most resources. There is already some effort to do this in schools. But it should not be limited to science subjects, but incorporated in living skills,” he urged while stressing that it would help if society understands that mental illness is normal.

Datin Dr Ang Kim TengDatin Dr Ang Kim Teng

Reaching out to Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA), its secretary-general, Datin Dr Ang Kim Teng explains the non-profit voluntary organisation has long dealt with mental illnesses since the 1960s and have evolved to giving mental health education to the public with their programmes.

“We have since been very active in mental health education activities, like caregiver education and public education programmes, besides giving mental health talks to institutions of higher learning and private companies.

“Our other activities include advocacy for people with mental illness, caregiver respite service and residential facility for those attending our rehab programme,” Dr Ang shared.

Although MMHA does not deal with suicide issues that often, they still provide education on suicide as part of their programme, and similarly to Befrienders, are another avenue for suicidal people to reach out to.

Relying On Helplines Alone Will Not Help

While Befrienders, other helplines and workshops like those conducted by MMHA will lend an emotional support to those in need, relying on such platforms alone is not a viable long-term solution.

“I have met patients who have said that talking to someone at Befrienders had helped them out of a suicidal crisis in the past,” professor Maniam said, but added, “It is an effective short-term solution.”

“Seek help from reliable sources. See a counsellor, doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Many kinds of therapies and medical treatments are available,” he concluded.

Similarly, Ardy advised, “In most cases, they (suicidal people) might benefit more from seeking professional help, like from a psychiatrist, counsellors, or mental health experts,” he suggested, while urging for an increased awareness among the public, to eliminate social stigma surrounding mental health issues that could lead to suicide.

“The government and some NGOs are currently pursuing avenues where they can do this, but they are only scratching the surface. We need to get deeper into the issue,” he highlighted.

Dr Ang also agreed those suffering from mental health illness should sought professional help, “See a psychiatrist, psychologist or mental health trained counsellors,” she recommends.

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As we continue to mourn the loss of icons, family members and friends who have succumbed to suicide, it is hoped that we can learn from these crushing losses to be the helping hand that those with mental health issues need.

Remember, take time to listen, accept and support those dealing with depression and encourage them to get out of their dilemma and improve their lifestyles.

For those who would like to reach out to helplines, you can contact Lifeline Association of Malaysia: 03-4265 7995, Befrienders KL: 03-79568144 / 03-79568145 and Malaysian Mental Health Association: 03-7782 5499

-mD