KUALA LUMPUR: ON average, 20 of the 68 people who call Befrienders Kuala Lumpur daily for help have suicidal thoughts.
The number of people crying out for help has increased by 16 per cent, from 21,256 in 2015 to 24,821 last year.
Befriender’s KL publicity director Ardy Ayadali said 7,446 who called last year had suicidal intentions, compared with 5,739 in 2015.
“Although suicide is more common among older people in most parts of the world, research shows that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 and 29 in Malaysia,” he said.
Ardy said 21 per cent of callers were aged 21 to 30; 15 per cent were below 20; 13 per cent were between 31 and 40; and 36 per cent were of unknown ages.
“The numbers are higher when it comes to email, as the younger generation prefers to write.”
Befrienders received 3,443 emails from people reaching out for help last year, compared with 2,685 emails in 2015 and 2,283 in 2014.
Eighteen per cent of the emails were from youth under 19, 27 per cent were from the 20 to 29 age group and five per cent were from the 30 to 39 age group.
The remaining 46 per cent of emails did not mention the senders’ ages.
“Most of the time, all they want is to end the emotional pain that they are feeling. And when nothing else works, suicide comes to mind.”
Ardy said the most common trigger for suicide among the callers was depression.
“Another trigger is a broken relationship, although with support and help, they tend to feel better after a considerable period of time.
“It also depends on the person’s coping mechanisms and their support system. Another alarming trend we notice is self-harm, especially among teens.
“There is no clear relationship between self-harm and suicide, but the worry is the pain that causes them to self-harm may also drive them to suicide.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist Assoc Prof Dr Fairuz Nazri Abd Rahman said a 2014 study titled ‘Completed Suicides and Self-Harm in Malaysia: A Systematic Review’ stated that the prevalence of suicide in Malaysia was six to eight per 100,000 population per year.
She said in developing countries like Malaysia, the highest suicide rate was found among the young (below 30) while married women were also at higher risk.
Ardy said there was increasing evidence that social media could contribute to suicide-related behaviour.
“Social media can lead to isolation, and teenagers tend to shut themselves off from the world.
“The role of social media and its potential influence on suicide-related behaviour is continuously evolving. New threats can surface at any time.
“Suicide contagion is the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviour within one’s family, peer group or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviours.”
Cyberbullying, he said, was another huge issue.
Ardy said sometimes people who posted about their suicidal intentions online received negative feedback and were accused of being attention seekers. He said sometimes netizens even challenged them to go through with it.
“Last year, someone who was suffering from mental illness wrote about her intention to end her life on her social media page.
“Unfortunately, the comments and responses that she received were mostly negative, with Malaysian netizens posting harsh words to the point of harassment, which constitutes cyberbullying.
“This pushed her self esteem further down and put her at even higher risk of committing suicide.”
Ardy said communication between parents and children was crucial to keep things in check.
“We receive many calls and emails from children who are going through problems in life, especially depression or other types of mental illnesses. When they try to talk to their parents about it, they often get brushed aside.
“The parents sometimes feel that the issue is not serious enough, and they do not seek help or do not help their children at all. Once this happens, the children will be more reluctant to talk to them when they encounter other difficulties in the future.”
Professor Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng, a leading figure in child and adolescent psychology and early childhood education, said reports about teenagers turning to social media and destructive online games such as the Blue Whale game, which purportedly encouraged teenagers to end their lives as a way to solve their problems, was worrying.
“In today’s society, so many young people spend so much time on the Internet and, smartphones that they lack the ability to communicate face-to-face comfortably with another person,” she said.
“They probably cannot communicate with their parents, teachers or peers about their stress and fears, and are so desperate to be heard that they resort to the Internet.
“They could be disappointed with life, involved in love affairs and facing exam stress, and mistakenly believe that they can get help online from virtual friends. “This is a poor substitute for real human contact and empathy. People at the end of their rope need to share their problems with someone face-to-face.
“There is a big difference between reading words on screen and hearing the concern, empathy and understanding in someone’s voice.
“It is very dangerous for suicidal individuals to try to get help on the Internet. Some people don’t understand there is a real problem and might poke fun at them , not realising that they might be making the problem worse by re-enforcing the person’s sense of worthlessness.”
Chiam urged parents to put greater effort into engaging with their children.
“If they do not speak to their children at home or on social outings, how can they expect their children to come to them with their problems?
“Parents really need to have time for their kids, to communicate with them and build up a good relationship. Family is so important. I cannot stress this enough.”
Chiam said violent and disruptive behaviour, and the inability to communicate could already be seen in children at the nursery and kindergarten levels.
“Instead of just concentrating on literacy and numeracy, children need to be informed that it is all right to express their feelings and should be taught communication skills,” she said.
In view of the increasing problems children have in communicating with people and expressing themselves, Chiam said it was now a requirement for Diploma or Bachelor Degree Courses in Early Childhood Education to be accredited by the Malaysian Qualification Agency and comply with the Programme Standards for Early Childhood 2015 .
“Early childhood educators must be able to detect problems in children, have the knowledge and skills to deal with them and alert parents early to take appropriate action. The saddest thing today is that when teens have problems they can’t even approach their guidance counsellors because of a sense of helplessness and low self-worth,” she said.