Wishlist on World Suicide Prevention Day — Ravivarma Rao Panirselvam

SEPTEMBER 10 — We live in a time of uncertainty: every day, we try to claim or remember the normalcy of life before the pandemic and we wait with bated breath for the 5pm update by the Health DG.

For some, there is the continued struggle to find a way to earn a living which now includes the expense of buying face masks.

It is undeniably difficult. It is certainly scary.

For some of us the situation may seem hopeless. If you relate to this, it is okay to not be okay. You are not alone and even now you can start seeking help.

Befrienders provides 24/7 support and help is available at any health facility closest to you.

Suicides rob communities of their most valuable resources — people. It may tickle the curiousity of some as they try to make predictions about suicide rates in the shadow of the pandemic but it is not as simple as that.

Suicides do not occur because of one reason. A single factor X does not lead to suicide.

Suicides are a result of complex interactions and the confluence of various factors in a person’s life including their psychological make-up, socio-economic stressors, losses, past trauma and biological factors.

Suicides may occur in the absence of mental illness especially in low- and middle-income countries like ours. Overwhelming life stressors especially grief and serious debt have devastating influences on vulnerable individuals.

We may not know how this pandemic will affect suicide rates in the near future.

However, what we do know is that as complex as suicides may be, no suicide is fated and suicides are preventable.

It has been shown in some parts of the world when we act in the right direction, suicides can be reduced significantly and prevented completely.

World Suicide Prevention Day is marked on September 10 each year. In that spirit, I list and explain a wish-list for the future of suicide prevention:

1. Creating safe spaces where we can talk about suicide and suicidal behaviour. Speaking about suicide safely does not give anyone the idea to end their lives.

People who have suicidal thinking definitely are not lacking faith. Being troubled, unfortunate and disconnected from society is not badness.

When we talk and dispel myths, we can help people better. All of us should know where to seek help locally so that if we or someone we know needs it, we would know the way.

2. Media in particular is a powerful agent of change and transmission of ideas. However, inappropriate and sensational stories about suicide can be triggering as well as traumatic to vulnerable people.

There is a real risk of contagion or copycat suicides especially with regard to the method used by the victim.

Therefore, the manner where the conversation is held matters. It is imperative that the narrative is hopeful, accurate and recovery-oriented without graphic visuals, explicit discussion of methods of suicide, sensationalism and romanticising suicide as a solution.

A good suicide story need not have a flashy headline or a gory picture to attract attention when it has substantial information to prevent suicides and provide help.

Consequently, media has an overarching role to cultivate a palette for stories which inspire hope.

3. Increased investment and collaboration in suicide prevention activities. We need to look beyond the development of mental health services (which is also needed).

This is an inexhaustive and sometimes expensive list which includes restricting access to lethal means, tackling systemic injustices, developing strong socio-economic supports, translational research and developing helplines.

With growing needs, we would need more 24/7 helplines catering to different population groups so that a person in crisis waits shorter when they dial for help.

4. Decriminalising attempted suicide. Section 309 of the Penal Code is an unfortunate inheritance of our colonial past which has not only lost its roots at its origins but remains ineffective in reducing suicide rates.

Empirical research across the world has found this law neither discourages nor reduces suicide attempts. Enforcement brings in more pain to someone who is in distress and further deters people who have attempted suicide from seeking help.

It is additionally unfavourable economically as it channels the person at risk into the criminal justice system who may (albeit much later) or may not receive healthcare that they deserve.

Section 309 is indeed an inconvenient inheritance of a past that bears little to no resemblance of the values of the society that we live in today.

5. Finally, it comes down to us and yes, to all of us. Suicide prevention is everybody’s business.

During this time of the year, more information about preventing suicides will become available especially on social media. We could start by educating ourselves and learning about the warning signs of suicide.

Offering to help is a big step that begins with us asking about suicidal thinking. It is okay to be uncomfortable at this point but do not lose faith in finding the right time and frame of words to ask (there are guides and training available too for this!).

Being aware comes also with being mindful of our actions especially online posting can sometimes cause unintended harm. Always think how your post may affect someone who is struggling with suicidal thinking.

Then again, do not forget to look after yourself. Hiding unpleasant news and logging off is okay. We may not change the world overnight but with more hands moving the bricks, the future where fewer people lose their lives to suicide may not be so far away.

* If you are in emotional distress or in need of help, Befrienders KL operates a 24/7 helpline at 03-76272929. Urgent help is also available through any Emergency department or healthcare facility across Malaysia.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

Related Articles