By Kurniawati Kamarudin
This article is in conjunction with World Mental Health Day which falls on Oct 10 every year.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Individuals with a psychological or psychiatric disorder are no stranger to suicidal or deliberate self-harm tendencies.
Likewise the case of a 42-year-old fabric entrepreneur who only wanted to be identified as Huzzir. Three years ago, he fell into depression and even attempted suicide after his business suffered huge losses and brought him to the brink of bankruptcy.
With professional care Huzzir, who is married and has no children, overcame depression and managed to rebuild his business. Unfortunately, the disorder reared its ugly head again during the Movement Control Order (MCO) earlier this year when his business took a beating and he incurred losses of over RM300,000.
Feelings of extreme anxiety drove him into depression again. “At night I couldn’t sleep and it seemed as if my brain couldn’t stop thinking. I lost my appetite and had gastric issues. I lost the will to live,” he said.
During the first three months of MCO, Huzzir suffered two episodes of a panic attack.
“I felt my whole body going stiff and couldn’t even get up when I had the panic attack,” he said, adding that after the second attack he was taken to hospital for psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
Huzzir said he is now gradually recovering and has attended eight counselling sessions so far. “I am making an effort to return to normal life,” he added.
In a message issued in conjunction with World Mental Health Day tomorrow, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for mental health services as bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.
“Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation and stroke,” it said.
According to WHO, globally more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression while nearly 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which works out to about one person every 40 seconds.
Depression is also among the main mental disorders affecting Malaysians. Statistics revealed by the National Health and Morbidity Survey showed that in 2017, 29 percent of the population suffered from depression and other mental afflictions compared to 12 percent in 2011.
The survey also found a 10 percent rise in suicidal behaviour among adolescents aged between 13 and 17.
Recently, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, quoting Ministry of Health figures, said 465 attempted suicide cases underwent treatment between January and June this year.
Befrienders Kuala Lumpur patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, meanwhile, said people with mental health disorders need prompt medical attention because with each suicide case the lives of about 135 people closest to the victim will be impacted as they would be wracked with feelings of guilt and regret which, if not managed well, can affect their own mental well-being as well.
“It is sad to see high suicide rates among the young because most suicides are preventable,” he told Bernama.
STIGMA STILL EXISTS
Lee said the Malaysian society’s culture of not encouraging children to express their innermost feelings was also at fault as many of them find it hard to share their troubles with others.
And although public awareness of mental health issues has increased in recent years, the stigma still exists which explains why people are still reluctant to seek treatment.
“They are worried about being judged and labelled ‘mad’ or ‘lazy’,” he said, adding that the lack of understanding of mental health issues can lead to the public viewing it as trivial.
“They (public) don’t realise the importance of treatment for people facing emotional and mental health problems.”
Lee also said that suicide cases should be recorded as death due to suicide instead of being classified as sudden death as is the practice now.
He said it is important to have accurate data on suicide cases to enable the government and non-governmental organisations to develop appropriate suicide-prevention action plans.
He also urged the government to review Section 309 of the Penal Code of Malaysia to decriminalise attempted suicide.
“This section is no longer relevant. When a person tries to end his or her life, they need medical treatment and support, not punishment,” he pointed out.
CASES GO UNREPORTED
According to police statistics, 356 cases of suicide were reported nationwide from 2014 to June 2019. Data by WHO indicates that Malaysia has a suicide rate of 5.5 per 100,000 population.
However, Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia psychiatrist Dr Mohd Azhar Mohd Yasin said the statistics are not a true reflection of Malaysia’s actual suicide rate as many cases go unreported.
“Many cases of suicide are not registered in the National Suicide Register… the only ones that are registered are those that are taken to the hospital and classified as sudden death,” he said.
He said more than 50 percent of suicide cases involve patients with mental disorders such as depression and severe stress.
Many mentally ill patients who end up in the hospital for treatment are known to have made repeated attempts to take their own life.
Dr Mohd Azhar said 75 percent of people who commit suicide would have earlier shown signs of wanting to kill themselves and would have tried to do so too.
The common warning signs that someone may be suicidal include melancholia, talking about feeling empty and hopeless and about wanting to die, and talking about wanting to go somewhere far away.
According to Dr Mohd Azhar, people contemplating suicide go through three stages. During the first stage, they think about committing suicide; second stage, they plan their suicide and get the substances they would need, for example, poison; and the third stage is when they try to commit the act.
He said women were more likely to remain in the first stage while there is a higher tendency for men to go right up to the third stage.
“This means women tend to do a lot of thinking and planning, while men are at a higher risk of committing the act of suicide.
“But this doesn’t mean that women are not at risk because the thought of suicide is always on their mind and they may attempt to kill themselves,” he added.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
Malaysian National News Agency
No.28 Jalan BERNAMA
Off Jalan Tun Razak
50400 Kuala Lumpur
Tel : +603-2693 9933 (General Line)
Email : helpdesk[at]bernama.com