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Suicide is preventable, but the stigma deters people from speaking up and seeking help. -File pic
Suicide is preventable, but the stigma deters people from speaking up and seeking help. -File pic

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that nearly 800,000 people die  from  suicide each year, which translates into one person every 40 seconds.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youths aged 15 to 29, and WHO has predicted that by 2020, about 1.5 million people will die by suicide.

In Malaysia, the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2017 on mental health among adolescents in the 13 to 17 age group revealed that one in five youths felt depressed and 10 per cent had suicidal ideation, while seven per cent had attempted suicide.

Conversations about suicide are never easy. Suicide is a sensitive issue and is a taboo.

It is considered sinful, selfish and even a crime in some countries.

The government’s decision to study a proposal to decriminalise attempted suicide in Malaysia is a step forward towards abolishing the law and fighting to end suicide and mental health discrimination. 

The taboo and misconceptions of suicide hide the sad reality that it is a crucial public health problem, not a public safety issue, which can affect anyone.

Suicidal behaviour is a sign of extreme distress and a cry for help that can be caused by various factors, including difficult life situations and mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety.

People do not commit suicide because they do not want to live. 

They commit suicide because they feel helpless and hopeless. They do not choose to die, just like people do not choose to have depression, schizophrenia, cancer or heart disease.

Suicide is preventable, but the stigma deters people from speaking up and seeking help.

The first step towards reducing the stigma is to talk about suicide.

Having an honest conversation about suicide can lead to mutual gains.

It enables people who have suicidal thoughts to seek help, while others can understand the discrimination and shame imposed by society, often unintentionally, on those with mental health conditions and suicidal inclination.

Advocating social inclusion and engagement with society — including patients, healthcare fraternity, first-line responders, family, friends, caregivers, neighbours, media, insurance providers and the government— can decrease the stigma and champion mental health awareness.

Improving mental health literacy can empower people to make decisions about their mental health and to rebuild hope.

Sensitivity should be taken into account when it comes to media coverage of suicide by avoiding explicit descriptions of the methods used to ensure responsible reporting and portrayal of mental health issues.

People living with mental illness and at risk of suicide want their loved ones to listen and show they care.

Sometimes, being a good listener can make a huge difference to someone and becomes the first step towards recovery.

So go ahead and break the silence. Let’s talk about suicide.

Ida Fazila Ismail

Kuala Lumpur

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