Set up task force, central agency to prevent suicides

There is an urgent need to establish an effective system to improve practices related to suicide prevention in Malaysia.

So said criminologist Datuk Dr P. Sundramoorthy, who added that preventing suicides involves a whole of society approach.

According to the World Health Organisation, 703,000 people take their own lives annually, with many more attempting suicides.

Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families and communities, and has long-lasting effects on those left behind.

Sundramoorthy, an honorary associate professor (criminology) at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, said while suicides were not usual in Malaysia, the upward trend since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic was worrying.

His comments were in response to three incidents that took place in the first week of this month.

On Aug 1, a 23-year-old woman fell to her death from the fourth floor of Suria KLCC in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The next day, a Myanmar father threw his three children off the Middle Ring Road 2 in Kuala Lumpur, before jumping to his death.

On Aug 3, a 65-year-old man fell to his death from the fourth floor of a mall in Alor Setar, Kedah.

“Anyone with compassion would want something to be done to ensure potential suicide victims can reach out for help, as suicides are preventable,” Sundramoorthy said.

“Studying suicide rates and trends in the country is important in formulating suicide prevention strategies,” he said.

“It’s not a simple problem, as suicides can be triggered by many factors … sexual abuse, and drug abuse. Human behaviour is a challenging thing to handle.”

Sundramoorthy said there is a need for people from all levels of society to learn and recognise the warning signs related to suicide, and suicidal tendencies.

“We must not only educate the public, but also train personnel, including the police, Fire and Rescue Department, as well as Civil Defence Department personnel.

“Enforcement agencies need to learn how to treat situations involving people with, or those who may, have suicidal tendencies. They must also learn how to negotiate. This is common in countries like the United States.”

He suggested that the curriculum for enforcement agencies be reviewed. This is to ensure uniformed personnel have the right knowledge and skill sets to deal with such matters.

“We need more support groups. It is more than just about having volunteers answering calls from help centres. We also need professionals who can make referrals to those in need. Help should extend beyond sending people to psychiatric wards. Those in need should be able to walk into hospitals to talk to someone easily.

“If someone is a counsellor, he or she must be able to identify and refer a person to the right place for help, especially if there are warning signs,” he added.

Sundramoorthy said courses on human social behaviour should also be incorporated in schools, so that children could also seek help from adults.

“Ultimately, the level of awareness cannot be superficial. There must be large public campaigns to prevent suicides.

“There must also be a central agency to get society involved. The government can take the lead by putting together a task force, to set up a system that currently, does not exist,” he said.

Sundramoorthy added that people are oftentimes at a loss, and don’t know what to do when they get a distress call from a family member or friend, who is in need of help. Loved ones are also unsure of who to call when they come across someone with suicidal tendencies.

“It will cost the government, without doubt, but the time has come for us to move and take this matter to the next level,” he added.

If you have inflicted self-harm or suffer from emotional distress, contact Befrienders at +603-79568144/ 8145 (24 hours), Talian Kasih at 15999 (24 hours), BuddyBear Helpline at 1800-18-2327 (daily 12pm to 12am), Mental Illness Awareness & Support Association (MIASA) at 1-800-820 066 (24/7), or the Health Ministry – Mercy Malaysia Psychosocial Support Helpline – at +603-2935 9935.