Students with prolonged mental health problems can become withdrawn, develop schizophrenia or have suicidal tendencies. FILE PIC

THE hardships of life can cause an invisible but all too real pain on the human psyche.

Long-term home and vehicle loans, a dysfunctional family life, the uncertain labour market and the pressure to excel academically to secure coveted spots in public universities and scholarships — all this and more can bear down on even the most resilient minds.

We have all heard of people who, unable to cope with the pressures of life, decide to end their life prematurely.

Such a siren call recently visited the mind of a 12-year-old boy, prompting him to sit outside a window on the second floor of a primary school in Rompin, Pahang, as worried friends and teachers watched from below.

On that April 6 morning, the boy, haunted by the problems at school, was only dissuaded from jumping when a group of firemen spent 20 minutes coaxing him to abandon the suicide bid.

This case is the latest and there have been a few other cases of attempted suicide linked to the hallowed halls of learning.

On March 1, a 30-year-old male teacher attempted to jump off the fourth floor of a school in Putrajaya.

Similar to the Rompin incident, it was the persuasion of a fellow teacher that convinced the man to give up his attempt to end his life, much to the relief of his students and the other teachers.

Another similar case, reported in a Malay daily on April 8, involved a former medical student who harboured thoughts of suicide due to her worsening academic performance. She later sought help from the Psychiatric Unit of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The 35-year-old mother of two had been haunted by depression on and off since 2003, and left the medical field in 2012 to look after her second child, who is autistic.

These and other cases reflect the Health Ministry’s statistics, which show that there is a rise in mental health problems among students, from one in 10 students in 2011 to one in five last year.

In a report published on Sept 12 last year, health expert Dr Mohd Suhaimi Mohamad said prolonged mental health problems increase the likelihood of students becoming withdrawn and developing schizophrenia, and heightened suicidal tendencies.

He said anxiety among students might be caused by pressure to excel in examinations, which caused them to fear failure and not being able to live up to the expectations of their parents and teachers.

It also does not help that there is stigma attached to mental problems. The Malay word gila (insane) is used to describe the mentally ill and there is a taboo associated with the word.

The stigma is such that on Feb 3, psychologist Dr Chua Sook Ning, an academic with the National Institute of Education at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, launched the #ImNotAshamed campaign to help change Malaysians’ perception of mental illness.

With the 29th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention set to be held for five days from July 18 in Kuching, Sarawak, it is hoped that the issue of suicide among students as well as adults would be at the forefront of discussion.

This can be seen from the words of Malaysian Psychiatric Association president Professor Dr Nor Zuraida Zainal, who is involved in organising the Kuching conference, on the website, iasp2017.org: “Having the conference in Asia and specifically in Malaysia is appropriate. Malaysia is similarly experiencing the effects of the world economic crisis as well as other threats to the stability of Asia.

“It is not surprising with such uncertainty, the mental health of the community is affected. We see reports which are much more often now, of suicide among adolescents, and this is a worrying trend,” she said.

Perhaps the answer to reducing the number of suicide attempts, especially among students, could be found in the Rompin incident.

One of the firemen helped the boy change his mind about suicide by reminding him about Allah, the love of his family and the long life ahead for him.

Here, one can see that taking a non-judgmental and empathetic approach is key to help those with suicidal thoughts that were caused by extreme stress and worries.

The boy seemed reluctant to kill himself as he sat on the window of the school for some time before firemen arrived, hinting that perhaps having someone to listen to your problems may sometimes be all that is needed to keep one going in life.

hidirreduan@nst.com.my

The writer is Pahang staff correspondent. He seeks pleasure in contemplative pursuits like viewing thought-provoking documentaries and reading

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