Be alert to signs of suicide

Mental health and the associated problem of suicide must be taken seriously.

ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 800,000 people die due to suicide every year—a staggering 40 people per second.

These numbers make suicide the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally.

Malaysia is not exempt from such woes.

The Malaysian Mental Healthcare Performance technical report for 2016 by the Ministry of Health stated that mental health disorders in the country are estimated to be responsible for 8.6 per cent of total DALYs. A DALY is a system for quantifying the burden of disease from mortality and morbidity, with one DALY being one lost year of “healthy” life.

The National Health Morbidity Survey in 2015 reported that 29.2 per cent of adults and 12.1 per cent of children suffered from mental health, with the prevalence of suicide attempts “apparently” increasing. In a study published by Bertolote & Fleischmann titled A Global Perspective in the Epidemiology of Suicide, 90 per cent of those who take their own lives had a psychiatric disorder at the time of death.

The study added that “data on the prevalence of mental health illness in Malaysia are limited” so the situation may be worse than we think.

Another issue is the source of data for suicide rates is not well-established due to challenges in establishing actual cause of death. Suicide also comes with stigma to the family, further complicated by the legal implications of a successful suicide attempt.

In an article written by Suzanna Pillay in the New Straits Times last year, it was noted in a 2014 study by Associate Professor Dr Fairuz Nazri Abd Rahman that for developing countries such as Malaysia, the highest suicide rate was found among the young or those below 30, with married women at higher risk.

It is easy to tell someone that they are young and have their lives ahead of them. And that is just the thing, youths do have their lives ahead of them, and this is why mental health and the associated problem of suicide must be taken seriously.

The higher education environment is stressful for young people and it is important to know the warning signs of suicide before we can offer support.

These include but are not limited to threatening to harm or end one’s life, seeking access to means of suicide, expression of suicidal plans, expression of ideation about suicide, hopelessness, withdrawal from family, friends and society, dramatic changes in mood and an expression that there is no reason for living or a purpose in life.

Once the signs are identified, take action. We should always ask questions. Ask the person at risk if he needs to talk and if he is thinking of committing suicide. What comes next is the most important. If the person decides to open up to you, there is one thing you should never do — dismiss him.

Listen empathetically and allow him to talk freely. Take time to consider his story so that he does not feel dismissed and do not judge. Avoid issues pertaining to morality and religion — you are entrusted with his pain, judgment is only fuel for a fire. Do not offer solutions or make promises that cannot be kept. Leave it to a psychiatrist to make a diagnosis.

Malaysia does not have a high density of psychiatrists despite the integration of mental healthcare into hospitals. But we do have options to get help. On campus, there are university counsellors. Befrienders has a helpline (03-7956 8145) and email address (

Call the Life Line Association Malaysia, an organisation which has a large number of Mandarin speakers (03-4265 7995). Relate Malaysia ( is an online-based resource which offers group therapy. The Malaysian Mental Health Association ( has a directory of resources for mental health in the country.


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