A 15 year-old student was found dead hanging from a ceiling fan after being expelled from school. A famous K-pop singer shocked the world when he committed suicide due to depression. These cases reflect a worrying trend of suicide among youth in Malaysia and in the world.

According to Befrienders KL, a suicide-prevention NGO, suicidal thoughts among our youth have increased based on the number of calls they received. From 2015 to 2016, there was an increase from 5,739 to 7,446 of callers who admitted having suicidal thoughts. The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 also reported an increase from 10.7% in 1996 to 29.2% in 2015 on the prevalence of mental health problems among adults in Malaysia and a prevalence of 12.1% of children aged 5-15 with mental health problems.

The National Suicide Registry Malaysia reported that the incidence rate of suicide deaths in Malaysia in 2009 was 1.18 per 100,000 population. This figure is far lower than the actual incidence in our country and when compared to the global index. However, this is due to the under-reporting of causes of death in hospital records, probably because of stigma and laws in Malaysia. We now know that suicide is a serious problem in Malaysia, especially among teens and young adults. We must take concerted efforts to deal with the problem.

5 steps to prevent suicide

What can you do if someone you know is suicidal or showing suicidal tendencies? These are the steps that you can take.

  • Ask to clarify: Ask a suicidal person directly, “Are you feeling suicidal?” This is necessary to be clear about their intention. Then, you can get help for them. This shows that you care about them. They might deny their suicidal tendency, but do continue to look for other signs.
  • Keep them safe: Keep them in a safe environment and limit their access to dangerous objects or places. Do not let them keep sharp objects and poisonous substances. Do not let them go to high places or near water on their own. Also ask them if they have any plan to attempt suicide, and proceed to disable the lethal means.
  • Be there and listen: Always be present and show that you are there for them. Listen carefully to their words to understand their feeling. Talking about their feelings and acknowledging their suicidal thoughts can control their suicidal tendency.
  • Get help for them: Most suicides are due to clinical depression. Refer such cases to mental health professionals. Also connect them with NGOs like Befrienders, spiritual advisors or other trusted individuals who can help them. Save important contacts in their phone and yours for easy access when needed.
  • Stay connected: After a crisis or after being discharged from care, keep in close contact with them. Watch for recurrent behaviours that signal suicidal thoughts. Following up with people at risk can prevent future suicidal attempts.

Identifying suicidal individuals

Apart from taking preventive steps, recognising the signs is equally important. It might be easier if you have a close relationship to them, but sometimes, even close families are not aware of their problems. Below are some signs of a person with suicidal thoughts and intention to attempt suicide.

  • Talking about death, wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Giving things away or writing unusually long notes
  • Posting ‘farewell’ messages on social media

Risky individuals

Certain individuals are also more risky to commit suicide, especially with accompanying signs of suicidal thoughts. However, suicide does not discriminate and can happen to people from any background. The following are some risk factors for suicide.

  • Clinical depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse
  • Family history of a mental disorder, substance abuse, suicide, or violence
  • Exposure to others’ suicidal behaviour, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities

The teenage years can be a difficult period in life due to peer pressure, hormonal changes, stress due to unrealistic expectations, and various other factors. These can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts, then pushing teenagers to actually attempt suicide. This guide can be helpful as an early intervention. Always keep an open mind and do not be judgmental.

Befrienders KL can be contacted at 03-79568145 or [email protected], if someone needs an emotional support. Befrienders centres in other states can also be found on www.befrienders.org.my. Call 999 if you see someone trying to commit suicide.

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