Do more for mental health

I found that with depression, one of the most important things you can realise is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it, you’re not gonna be the last to go through it.

– Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, actor

How do we feel every time we hear of a suicide case?

Isn’t it a feeling of despair and hopelessness even if we do not know the person who took his or her own life or the family members?

Every suicide is a tragedy. We will never understand why people committed suicide but one thing we do know – it’s never easy to kill oneself for whatever reasons. That’s an unimaginable thought to many of us.

But they keep on occurring and suicide cases are on an upward trend globally, so too in Malaysia.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported there were more than 800,000 suicide deaths each year with an average of one suicide every 40 seconds.

Globally, suicide incidents are among the 20 leading causes of death for all ages and is one of three leading causes of death among those aged between 15 and 44.

In Malaysia, a total of 465 attempted suicide cases treated at the Ministry of Health has been recorded from January to June this year.

And in Sarawak, a total of 193 suicide cases were recorded in Sarawak since 2016 with Miri recording the highest number of occurrences at 73 cases with Sibu 25.

Revealing the statistics obtained from the police, Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah said 46 cases were recorded each in 2016 and 2017, while there were 46 cases in 2018 and 55 cases as of September this year.

“The findings of the National Health and Morbidity Study (NHMS) in 2017 showed that there is an increase from 2012 to 2017 in the prevalence of being lonely and the inability to sleep due to worry among secondary school students in Sarawak.

“This study also discovered that during the same period of time, there is a rising trend amongst youth between the ages of 13 and 17 in suicidal ideation, suicidal planning, and suicidal attempts,” Fatimah said in her winding up speech in the State Legislative Assembly last week.

The minister’s revelations are worrying. Of particular concern to me are the cases involving students.

We have read too often of students who took the suicide route due to their inability to cope with studies, peer pressure or difficult family situations.

There is certainly an urgent and pressing need for the two ministries, Health and Education, to work in tandem to prevent such tragedies.

Counselling in schools and other support for students suffering from mental stress, which are already in place, must be accelerated.

We should do more for mental health. I have not studied the allocations, specifically for the issue, in the national and state budgets but I do hope that sufficient funds have been allocated to tackle this rising health concern.

Understandably, the health focus today is on Covid-19. Hopefully, once we have the vaccine, the coronavirus which has claimed the lives of 1.3 million globally so far will be a thing of the past. Suicide takes 800,000 lives annually.

The problem will stay with us and the onus is on us to watch out for each other – our family, friends, classmates and co-workers – and to reach out with our compassion and strength to pull those with mental health issues back to the surface.

I am glad to learn that Fatimah is a very hands-on minister and has been working diligently and conscientiously for the wellbeing of Sarawakians.

I believe she shares the concerns of many on the rising trend/thought among young people to commit suicide for reasons which you and I will probably never be able to comprehend. But it’s real, it’s serious and it’s worrying.

It might be a good idea for Fatimah’s ministry to engage with more NGOs to help realise more holistic approaches to tackle mental stress among suffering Sarawakians.

Organising seminars and symposiums is one thing but the focus, in my opinion, is to gather more volunteers from among many caring Sarawakians.

What a person needs during a time of hopelessness and despair is a listening ear more than anything else.

It’s important for us, even if we are not trained counsellors or health workers, to realise that people thinking of suicide are brought to this desperate place for many reasons, and no one has the same internal experience.

However, what they all have in common is that, in these dark moments, they are completely and utterly alone without the strength to search for and grasp a lifeline.

In these moments of desperation, they need you and me.

Let us not let them down.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.