Our young people are in trouble

THE National Health and Morbidity Survey 2022 has brought to light alarming trends affecting Malaysian teenagers.

Suicidal thoughts, verbal and physical abuse within homes, and bullying and cyberbullying have emerged as critical issues affecting the well-being of our youth.

The prevalence of suicidal thoughts among teenagers especially demands urgent attention from all of society. We need to prioritise mental health support and destigmatise seeking help.

Schools, in collaboration with mental health professionals, should provide accessible counselling services and conduct awareness campaigns about suicide.

Additionally, establishing helplines and online platforms where young people can anonymously seek guidance and support can play a vital role in preventing tragedies and promoting mental well-being.

The reasons for suicidal ideation could well be attributed to the distressing reality of verbal and physical abuse experienced by Malaysian teenagers in their homes, as well as the prevalence of bullying revealed by the survey.

Here again, schools – where our youth spend so much of their lives – can play a pivotal role by offering confidential counselling and educating children about their rights and encouraging them to speak up.

By strengthening collaborations with child protection agencies and providing safe shelters for abuse survivors, schools can create a secure environment where young people feel supported and protected.

But schools can feel terrifyingly unsafe when bullying rears its ugly head. The survey reveals that this issue remains a persistent challenge in the lives of Malaysian adolescents.

This age-old problem has been made much worse by technology – children and teens are increasingly vulnerable to online harassment, which can have severe psychological and emotional consequences.

What’s needed is a multifaceted approach that includes empowering youth to address bullying effectively.

Schools should implement evidence-based anti-bullying programmes that educate students on empathy, conflict resolution and bystander intervention. Peer support systems and mentoring initiatives can foster a sense of community, encouraging students to stand together against bullying.

Furthermore, parents and educators must be actively involved, emphasising open communication and ensuring bullying incidents are addressed promptly and effectively.

Empowering young people to navigate the digital landscape safely is essential. Therefore, schools should incorporate digital literacy programmes in the curriculum, educating students about responsible online behaviour, privacy settings and the potential impact of their online actions.

By fostering a culture of digital citizenship and encouraging the reporting of cyberbullying incidents, we can create a safer online environment for our youth.

Promoting empathy and compassion should be at the core of addressing these issues.

The education system should prioritise social-emotional learning, teaching students the value of kindness, respect and inclusivity.

By fostering a supportive and compassionate school culture, we can empower young people to become advocates for positive change and stand up against abuse, bullying and cyberbullying.

Parents, too, can play a crucial role in empowering their children to navigate these challenges.

Parents need to engage with their children actively, fostering open lines of communication and providing a safe space for dialogue.

Parenting workshops and resources can equip parents with the knowledge and skills to recognise signs of distress, offer support, and collaborate with schools and relevant organisations.

Addressing these complex issues requires a collaborative effort from all sectors of society.

Schools, community organisations, government agencies and media outlets should join forces to raise awareness, implement prevention programmes and provide accessible resources.

Those suffering from problems can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service at 03-2935 9935 or 014-322 3392; Talian Kasih at 15999 or 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp; Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre at 0111-959 8214 on WhatsApp; and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur at 03-7627 2929 or go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia for a full list of numbers nationwide and operating hours, or email sam@befrienders.org.my.

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