LET'S face it. For many of us, June has been a month where we've had suicide front-and-centre in our faces. It started with the death of fashion icon Kate Spade on June 5, followed by the suicide of celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain three days later on June 8.
Yes, I'll concede that this news is old news now. That said, it is undeniable that the passing of these two lives put the topic of suicide and suicide prevention in the public eye again, however briefly.
And amidst the articles commemorating their lives with the contact numbers of suicide hotlines tagged right at the bottom, we also saw a short sharp spike in public awareness about the need for suicide prevention and suicide's impact on society
This is definitely a discussion worth having, especially when you consider that statistics compiled by the World Health Organisation show that suicide rates have gone up by 60% worldwide over the last 45 years.
Indeed, this is something that Malaysia is no stranger to as a call I made to get statistics from the Befrienders Kuala Lumpur revealed that they were contacted 27,000 times from January to December 2017.
Of that figure, 8,000 calls involved instances of suicidal tendencies.
Therefore, it is clear that something has to be done to help arrest this rise - and I would like to argue that this is not a discussion to be raised sporadically whenever someone famous takes their own life. Indeed, I feel that we should be open to learning how to look out for the signs of depression or suicidal inclinations in our friends and family and learn how to help them before it is too late.
And what are the signs? According to advice I found when Googling the Befrienders, the most obvious signs are those we can hear with our own ears when those around us say things like "I can't go on" or "I'm thinking of ending it all".
"The strongest and most disturbing signs are verbal. Such remarks should always be taken seriously. Other warning signs include a person becoming depressed or withdrawn, behaving recklessly, suddenly getting affairs in order and giving cherished possessions away, among other marked changes in behaviour such as drug or alcohol abuse or major life changes, such as the loss of a loved one," said The Befrienders on their international website.
So, how can we help someone we are concerned about? According to advice given by The Befrienders, the best thing we can do is to "be quiet and listen".
"If someone is feeling depressed or suicidal, our first response is to try to help. We offer advice, share our own experiences, try to find solutions. Some depressed and suicidal people are actually seeking concrete information, such as how to find a therapist or where to get specific help. However, we'd do better to be quiet and listen. Before people who feel suicidal can begin to explore solutions, they need a safe place to express their fears and anxieties, to be themselves," said The Befrienders.
Reading further, The Befrienders added that in helping a person in need, we must control the urge to say something - to make a comment, add to a story or offer advice as we need to listen not just to the facts that the person is telling us but to the feelings that lie behind them.
Basically, we need to listen to their feelings - not ours. We need to be someone who won't judge or give opinions off the bat as we need to be someone who can give that person our undivided attention, trust and respect. Ultimately, we need to give that person a safe, open space for them to share their feelings openly without prejudice or judgment.
As The Befrienders added; "don't change the subject, pity or be patronising. Talking about feelings is difficult and people who are feeling suicidal don't want to be rushed or put on the defensive. Lectures don't help, nor does a suggestion to tell them to cheer up. Don't analyse, compare, categorise or criticise."
And having said all this, I would like to touch on one way our Government can help those who are suicidal, and that is by decriminalising suicide.
As it stands, Section 309 of the Malaysian Penal Code reads that "whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with a fine, or both".
Reading the relevant laws, I feel that the time has come for the powers-in-charge to repeal this absurd, archaic section of the Penal Code that both criminalises and stigmatises suicide in Malaysia. I am sure that there are those that will argue that such laws might act as a deterrent, but I doubt they'll stop someone if their emotional state has driven them to believe that ending their life is their only way out from the pain they're living with.
At the very least, I'd suggest that Section 309 be amended from jail to a sentence of counselling by a competent psychologist - if only so that those who attempt suicide and survive can get the help they truly need instead of being fined and perhaps also thrown behind bars.
So yes, all said and done - I now hope that we all are now better equipped to help someone through their darkest hours, should they come face-to-face with them. I also hope that we can spare the time to really appreciate why we should learn how to help.
For all we know, we could be that person that saves a life.
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