GEORGE TOWN, May 27 — The Penang state government must play a proactive role and hold mental health campaigns in schools, institutions and workplaces as a measure to prevent suicides, mental health expert Synthia Surin has proposed.
The International College of Clinical Hypnotherapy Practitioners Asia regional director said there is a need to create awareness on ways to deal with suicidal tendencies, stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness.
She said the authorities can no longer wait for people to reach out to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or helplines.
“The state needs to reach out to these people and the best place is to start in schools so that, from a young age, they are equipped with the knowledge on how to handle feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts or know what steps to take to reach for help,” she said.
She said mental health programmes should be compulsory for students.
She said in her line of work, they have found that Penang has the highest number of calls related to suicides compared to other states.
“So, the state government must do something about it. They can set up a think tank consisting of people from all walks of life, not only professionals,” she said.
She said the state can also hold widespread campaigns in schools and workplaces, and even work with multinational companies to reach out to more people.
“The state government will say they have PgCARE but the state can’t just depend on the NGOs to do this,” she said.
She pointed out that these are NGOs with counsellors who may not specialise or are fully trained in suicide prevention.
She said there have been instances where counsellors in these NGOs merely advised those who called the careline “to exercise” or “to listen to music” instead of addressing the main reasons why the caller was feeling suicidal.
“We need to get the message out there that it is okay to not be okay, that it is okay to feel hopeless, and it is okay to reach out for help if you are feeling hopeless and have suicidal tendencies,” she said.
Synthia said the state should be reaching out to the people to conduct awareness and educational campaigns instead of waiting for them to call PgCARE for help.
“The state can even collaborate with MNCs to hold these campaigns on a large scale,” she said.
The PgCare Society is an alliance of NGOs that was formed in 2021 to address the short- and long-term needs related to mental health, food aid and employment due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Synthia believed that the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts may have played a role in the increase in suicide cases nationwide.
“This is happening but these suicide cases were swept under the carpet. People don’t want to talk about it. There is still so much stigma attached to it,” she said.
She said there is a need to demystify suicide and mental health issues, and this is through education.
Psychology lecturer from Inti International College Penang Brian John Dorai agreed that there is a need for education and de-stigmatisation so that people will be more open to seeking help when faced with suicidal thoughts.
He agreed with Synthia that mental health awareness should be cultivated in schools, colleges, workplaces and public.
He said the media too plays a role in suicide prevention when reporting such cases.
“Suicide cases in the media should be reported responsibly with education of the resources available for people in need to reach out,” he said.
Brian, who volunteers with Befrienders Penang and Shalom Careline, said they get a lot of callers who mentioned that they saw the numbers in news reports.
Synthia concurred that the media plays a role to educate and create awareness on mental health issues as a way forward to de-stigmatise it.
As for the recent spate of suicide cases at Penang Bridge, Brian suggested that large billboards with phone numbers of carelines such as Befrienders be placed along the bridge.
“We already have a lot of billboards with advertisements, so it is also good to put some with positive messages,” he said.
* Those who are facing mental health issues can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935/014-3223392); Talian Kasih (15999/019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Befrienders Penang (04-2811108/04-2815161/04-2910100) or go to befrienders.org.my and PgCARE (04-642777/04-2910123) or go to pgcarealliance.com.