ON THE BRINK
When life’s trials seem too unbearable, some are pushed to utter despair.
Some find the pressure of modern living unbearable. But there are people willing to help.
SUICIDE is seldom mentioned in news stories of “sudden deaths” where “no foul play is suspected”. But the cause of death – jumping from tall buildings, or hanging, taking poison or suffocation due to exhaust fumes in a locked car – is usually an indicator that someone has taken his life. Unfortunately, such news items are not uncommon and they never fail to shock.
It’s especially sad when the deceased are young and seemingly in the prime of their lives.
A 17- year- old actor hung himself after finding his SPM Additional Mathematics paper too tough. It was reported that he was in despair because he felt that he had let down his mother and would not be able to care for her if he couldn’t score good grades.
“Worldwide, suicide among adolescents is on the rise, likewise in Malaysia. This is a real pity because suicide is largely preventable,” says consultant psychiatrist and Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj.
He says the younger generation is growing up in the Internet Age, and are the least equipped to navigate and handle its challenges.
“The Internet should be an excellent medium for humans to acquire emotional support and comfort, but digital and online interactions don’t seem to achieve that,” he adds, pointing out that digital communications lack the depth and richness of face-
to- face interactions.
Psychologist and suicidologist Dr Adnan Omar says he has handled several cases of cyber bullying leading to depression and suicidal tendencies. “There is a tendency to seek approval through social media. Some get devastated if they don’t get the desired approval and this can result in depression and sometimes, suicide,” he says.
The second leading cause of death of 15- to- 29- year- olds in the world is suicide, due to various reasons.
But suicide risks are also prevalent in people of all ages, with men between 45 and 54 reported to be the most vulnerable.
Deputy Home Affairs Minister Tuan Masir Anak Kujat recently reported that a total of 130 suicide cases was recorded in Malaysia between January and October last year.
A total of 178 suicide and suicide attempt cases was recorded in 2013, and 191 cases in 2014. He added that the incidence of suicide in the country was due to various factors such as financial problems, depression, relationship disappointments and family problems.
The Chinese record the highest numbers of suicide and suicide attempts, and the Malays the lowest.
“As far as the rate of suicide is concerned, data from the National Registry of Suicide indicates only 1.3 per 100,000 population. This is a gross underestimate. There are studies that claim a more realistic picture of 11 to 13 per 100,000,” says Dr Mohanraj
The 2014 Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative report by the World Health Organisation reported that 800,000 people kill themselves annually. It also said that for each adult who committed suicide, 20 others have attempted it.
People of different ages commit suicide for different reasons. Older people tend to do so for economic and family reasons, while young people, over academic and relationship issues, says Dr Adnan.
The most common cause of suicide is depression, which is a silent malaise.
“The pressure of urban living, rising costs and the pressure to excel have contributed to the rise in suicides,” Dr Mohanraj shares.
Dr Adnan feels that as humans we have an intrinsic need to coexist and to be content with life.
“Humans need others to lead meaningful, functional, productive and emotionally stable lives. As our lives get busier with material pursuits, we invest less time in proper human relationships and interactions, making us more detached from one another. So, when difficulty strikes, we are incapable of coping because we do not have strong, meaningful emotional and social ties in society,” he explains.
Some people are also ill- equipped to handle the challenges of modern living as there seems to be less support networks. Dr Adnan says there is declining social support, multiple demands on life, a basic lack of awareness and skills to cope with pressure, and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
Suicide, however, is not something that happens overnight.
Dr Mohanraj says 90% of suicides are due to existing mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. If someone with depression also uses drugs or alcohol to contain his despair, suicide attempts are more likely.
“Sometimes, when depression is very severe and left untreated, the sufferer can have psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. A hallucinatory voice may tell the sufferer to kill himself,” he adds.
Illustration: FCHWAN/ The Star