The Sarawak authorities have increased its funds by 5% to the state Ministry of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood for mental health promotions and activities, said Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg. He elaborated that it would include adequate distribution of the budget for all areas of mental health promotion, particularly amongst school-going children to build on their resilience.

He relayed the government’s efforts after officiating the 29th World Congress of The International Association For Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the 21st Malaysian Conference of Psychological Medicine (MCPM), which took place at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK).

More research needs to be conducted on suicidal behaviour in the state

In his opening remarks, Abang Johari said, “This will help to improve mental health and to reduce suicidal behaviour in the development plans for our state.” He added that the impact of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety as well as alcohol and drug abuse drew the governments concern. This is because these factors were some of the main suicidal contributors. On top of that, according to the latest National Health and Morbidity Survey, nearly 30% of the Malaysian general population experienced mental health issues.

Among young people, there could be a multitude of reasons for suicide. However, the chief minister communicated that he was personally very worried about bullying as an important contributory factor to suicide. The pressure that students are often put under to exhibit academic excellence contributed to an increase in suicide rates after the major examinations results were announced, expressed Abang Johari.

He urged teachers, parents and other relevant groups to address these issues. “For this they must be adequately trained. The state government will give due consideration to requests for assistance in the pursuit of these goals,” he added.

In addition, academicians and professionals were encouraged to conduct more studies on suicidal behaviour in Sarawak. The chief minister stressed the importance of this to provide a clearer picture of the extent of the problem in the state, its causes and how to manage this distressing matter.

Negative effects of social media

Speaking at the IASP World Congress, president Professor Ella Arensmen also commented on the impacts of bullying –specifically via social media. The forms of social media bullying are such as posting negative comments on pictures, posting abusive posts on a user’s wall, using pictures or videos to make fun of another user, using social media to stalk, hacking an account or fraudulently making posts as though another person wrote them.

“The negative impact of social media bullying has gone beyond countries and is difficult to intervene,” emphasised Professor Arensmen. She further explained that the seriousness of suicide and mental health problems warrant awareness as the condition is preventable and treatment is available.

Countries like Korea and Japan still recorded higher suicide rates compared to Malaysia, said conference organising chairman Professor T. Maniam. According to him, the rate in Malaysia is six to eight per 100,000 people, which translates to about 2,000 persons annually. In some other countries, the rate is 20 per 100,000 people. “It does not mean that you should stand idle and do nothing about it. Every suicide (case) is one too many,” he said.

The conference sets to address an array of topics such as national suicide prevention programmes, clinical and psychosocial interventions, mental health promotion, high-risk groups, helplines, culture, epigenetics, suicide bereavement support, media and suicide, restricting access to lethal means and the decriminalisation of suicide. MIMS

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