Cry for help

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by SHARMILA nAIR sharmila@thes­

Youths who at­tempt sui­cide just want to

be heard and un­der­stood. >2-3

TIARA Shafiq was only 11 years old when she first thought of com­mit­ing sui­cide. She was about to cut her­self with a pair of scis­sors at school, when her friend stopped her, say­ing, “If you do it, God won’t love you and you’ll go to hell”.

She never at­tempted to take her own life again since then, but that did not stop her from hav­ing su­ci­ci­dal thoughts.

“I suf­fered hor­ren­dous racism at school and I had just about ev­ery­body – es­pe­cially the teach­ers – blam­ing me for all the trou­bles in the news­pa­pers, ask­ing me to jus­tify why there were all these re­ports of Bangladeshi re­lated crimes in there. I was 11, how would I know?” says Tiara, whose par­ents mi­grated to Malaysia from Bangladesh in the 1980s.

The 25-year-old per­for­mance artist, who was born and raised in Malaysia, said that al­though it was get­ting her re­ally down, she never talked about it – even to her fam­ily.

“My mum re­mem­bers me com­ing home (from school) ev­ery day be­ing an­gry and grumpy but never quite know­ing why.”

Al­though Tiara did not end up act­ing on her sui­ci­dal thought, she nev­er­the­less kept feel­ing that she shouldn’t live and of­ten wished she was dead.

Un­for­tu­nately, many young peo­ple have sim­i­lar thoughts as Tiara and some even at­tempt at tak­ing their own lives.

China Press re­cently re­ported that a 13-yearold girl in Jo­hor Baru at­tempted sui­cide by over­dos­ing on painkillers. The stu­dent was al­legedly tor­mented by a se­cret so­ci­ety forc­ing her to re­cruit 10 new mem­bers for the gang.

Un­able to stand con­stant threats from the group, the girl tried to kill her­self by con­sum­ing the pills but was saved by fam­ily mem­bers who rushed to her aid.

The Na­tional Sui­cide Registry Malaysia 2008 an­nual re­port states that 290 sui­cide cases were doc­u­mented that year alone. The youngest case re­ported was that of a 12-year-old child. The re­port found that sui­cides oc­curred most fre­quently in the age group of be­tween 20 to 29 years with 75 re­ported cases.

The num­ber of un­suc­cess­ful sui­cide at­tempts is un­recorded, and pre­sum­ably much higher.

Non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion Be­frien­ders, which pro­vides free coun­selling to those in dis­tress, re­cently re­vealed that of the 19,300 calls they re­ceived in 2009, 20% were from peo­ple ex­press­ing sui­cide ten­den­cies.

Not an act

There are many rea­sons why peo­ple want to com­mit sui­cide, and con­trary to pub­lic be­lief, it isn’t al­ways about seek­ing at­ten­tion. A ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who at­tempt or com­mit sui­cide have been known to suf­fer from a form of psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­der, no­tably de­pres­sion.

Cy­ber­jaya Uni­ver­sity Col­lege of Med­i­cal Sci­ences as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in Psy­chi­a­try and con­sul­tant psy­chi­a­trist Dr Muham­mad Na­jib Mo­hamad Alwi says that there is no def­i­nite cause as to why one suf­fers from a de­pres­sive ill­ness.

“The biggest mis­con­cep­tion­cep­tion about de­pres­sion is that it is a sign of weak­ness and some­thing that one should quickly snap out of,” he says.

When de­pres­sion is se­vere, it may se­ri­ously af­fect an indi-in­di­vid­ual’s qual­ity of life­life and so­cial func­tion­ing. This may even lead to sui­cide and thus, early treat­ment is

very im­por­tant to re­duce mor­bid­ity and mor­tal­ity caused by it.

Sui­cide at­tempts could also be caused by stress such as from deal­ing with fi­nan­cial set­backs, bro­ken re­la­tion­ships and un­em­ploy­ment.

“I started get­ting sui­ci­dal thoughts when I was 15. They came when­ever I was sad, es­pe­cially when it was over a boy,” says De­siree Wong, 17.

De­siree was the only child in her fam­ily but says that she did not have a close re­la­tion­ship with her par­ents. She used to cut her arms just for plea­sure and her par­ents, even though they no­ticed her scars, never said a word.

“I used to wish that I would just sud­denly die by get­ting run over by a car or get­ting killed by some stranger. I also used to wish that I had the courage to cut my­self deeper or jump off a build­ing,” she ad­mits.

Things took a turn for the worse when De­siree swal­lowed a whole bot­tle of parac­eta­mol – twice. Thank­fully, her ex-boyfriend caught her in the act both times, and helped her vomit most of them out.

“My par­ents ig­nored the scars on my wrist but they were re­ally up­set at the pill in­ci­dents.”

Sup­port not pun­ish

Ac­cord­ing to Tiara, the worst thing one could do to a per­son with sui­ci­dal ten­dency is not to take them se­ri­ously. Many peo­ple feel that it is just at­ten­tion-seek­ing be­hav­iour.

“Don’t claim that it was all just for at­ten­tion. Well, there is a rea­son why they are try­ing to get your at­ten­tion – part of them wants help,” she says.

“Peo­ple who at­tempt or com­mit sui­cide usu­ally feel like they’ve run out of op­tions. They are cry­ing out for help. When you’re sui­ci­dal or de­pressed it’s ex­tremely hard to think about other peo­ple’s re­ac­tions be­cause you’re stuck in the brain­wave of, ‘ No one cares about me any­way, I’m use­less’. Jail is not a de­ter­rent,” Tiara wrote in her blog pre­vi­ously. She was ad­dress­ing an at­tempt in 2008 by the Malaysian po­lice to en­force the law on at­tempted sui­cide as a form of de­ter­rence. In an open let­ter to The Star ti­tled Sui­cide A

Cry for Help, Be­frien­ders chair­man S. Gan­gadara Vadi­vel wrote: Many who at­tempt sui­cide are un­aware of sources where they could seek emo­tional sup­port. The avail­abil­ity of emo­tional sup­port at a time of cri­sis could be cru­cial and could make the dif­fer­ence be­tween life or death.

While the laws of the land must be re­spected, we ap­peal to the au­thor­i­ties to treat at­tempted sui­cide cases with com­pas­sion and mercy. They need com­pas­sion and coun­selling, not pros­e­cu­tion and pun­ish­ment.

“(Our) sui­ci­dal callers feel help­less, hope­less, iso­lated and suf­fer un­bear­a­bale emo­tional pain. We al­low them to share their in­ner­most feel­ings, with the as­sur­ance of con­fi­den­tial­ity and ac­cep­tance. We con­vey that we are ‘with them’ dur­ing their cri­sis and that they do not have to suf­fer alone,” he says.

Mov­ing for­ward

In 2007, Tiara once again thought about sui­cide. She wanted to jump off her col­lege’s bal­cony while go­ing through some per­sonal and uni­ver­sity re­lated prob­lems. Thank­fully, she re­alised what was hap­pen­ing be­fore at­tempt­ing it.

“I thought, ‘Wait, this is se­ri­ously bad. I re­ally need help’,” Tiara says.

She seeked help from the head of her col­lege’s head, ask­ing for help. The col­lege head then brought her to the near­est doc­tor and she was pre­scribed some med­i­ca­tion.

“I still get such thoughts once in a while when I’m de­pressed, es­pe­cially when my pe­riod is about to come. That’s just be­cause my hor­mones are ad­just­ing. It sucks, but I have to deal with it,” she says.

Now, Tiara not only gets through her days with the help of med­i­ca­tion and “talk ther­apy” but also by get­ting in­volved in all sorts of projects that in­ter­ests her. She acts and does classes in bur­lesque and cir­cus.

De­siree, on the other hand, has not had sui­ci­dal thoughts in a long time. She says that she has found the se­cret to her hap­pi­ness – laugh­ter and love.

“Laugh­ter is in­deed the best medicine and the sec­ond best is love,” she says, adding that one of the best de­ci­sions she ever made was talk­ing to her loved ones about her prob­lems.

She also says that she once hated her par­ents for not be­ing able to un­der­stand her, but have since re­alised that she too failed to un­der­stand them.

“They have ac­cepted the fact that this is just the way I am and I in turn have learned to un­der­stand them more,” says De­siree.

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