Friends, family should be there for those facing mental distress, says minister

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman participates in a mental health forum at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur May 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman participates in a mental health forum at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur May 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

GOMBAK, May 17 — Friends and families of those who are facing mental distress should not shun or shut out their loved ones but instead lend an ear to hear their concerns, said Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman.

Speaking at the “Are You Okay?” mental health awareness talk at the International Islamic University of Malaysia here today, Syed Saddiq said although there are a number of places to seek professional help for those facing mental distress, their loved ones should be the first avenue of help.

“We have councillors in schools, we have medical practitioners who are offering their help, we have NGOs like Befrienders who are giving the best of assistance, so there are many networks but no everyone is exposed to these networks, not everyone knows about it.

“Often you would know your friends and family. It starts there, while there are formal routes to look at, friends and family should always lend an ear at the minimum to listen to their problems and concerns and never shut them away,” he said.

Syed Saddiq was commenting on the suicide of a 16-year-old who was believed to have jumped from the third floor of a shop lot in Kuching earlier this week.

The teenager was believed to commit suicide after she conducted an online poll to decide if she should kill herself or not.

Syed Saddiq also said that he has faced bouts of depression before but is thankful to have overcome them due to a good support system through his family.

Malaysian Psychiatrist Association president, Dr Hazli Zakaria, speaks during a mental health forum at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur May 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Malaysian Psychiatrist Association president, Dr Hazli Zakaria, speaks during a mental health forum at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur May 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Speaking at the event was also Dr Hazli Zakari, president of the Malaysian Psychiatrist Association, who said mental wealth illiteracy might have also contributed to the recent tragic death in Kuching.

“For example, in this case, she has followers meaning that she has friends that follow her but are not able to detect the changes in her,” he said, referring to friends who followed the girl online yet were not able to detect whether she was in need of help or otherwise. 

“What we need to do besides having more licensed councillors is why not we improve mental health awareness among the community, among our friends so that they can detect if there are changes in their friends and do something about it?” he said.

Dr Haslzi said better mental health awareness can contribute to a person having a better “first aid” skill in dealing with those in mental distress.

Syed Saddiq also said that the conversion on mental health or mental wellbeing should not be considered a taboo subject but instead should be approached with a healthy dose of care and consideration.

Also in attendance at the event was Ministry of Health, mental health section head Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim, who revealed that the suicide rate in the country is 1.2 to 1.5 per hundred thousand people. She, however, acknowledged that it was difficult to collect data on the matter due to the subject being taboo.

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