Today, the 10th of September is World Suicide Prevention Day 2021. It is an important topic that should be given attention to, not just today but every day of the year, especially given the alarming number of suicide cases that have happened this year alone in Malaysia. Up until May 2021, the Malaysian Federal Police Force recorded 468 cases, compared with the 631 cases reported in all of 2020.
Most cases of suicides are brought on by mental health challenges and often occur in moments of deep despair. It is usually taken as the final step when individuals feel like they’ve exhausted all options. Alia Ali, better known as Kak Ngah to the public, who is the founder of AWAS (Awareness Against Suicide) Malaysia shares, “Nobody wakes up one morning thinking I’m just going to die. Think of them as a volcano; the magma is already boiling within and through constant pressure, one day, they will erupt.”
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There have been a considerable amount of triggers ever since the pandemic started. People have lost jobs, the lockdown and isolation have caused extreme stress, and the rising number of COVID cases coupled with the uncertainty of the future brings about major anxiety. Alia says, “When all these things add on, the camel’s back will break, so it’s important that we know what the signs are. And once you do, don’t ignore it because you never really know when your loved one will depart.”
Suicide is preventable and one of the most important things we can do for a suicidal individual is to learn what the signs are and be constantly aware. “Noticing the early signs of depression is crucial because sometimes we tend to overlook and dismiss them, or even peg it as attention-seeking behaviour. Therefore, I urge you to be vigilant and learn of all the signs. Google them, read up about them, and most importantly, take action when you do notice them. Don’t try to handle the situation alone and get trained professional help as quickly as you can,” says Alia.
Some of the more obvious signs include extreme mood swings, preferring to be isolated, not being able to get enough sleep or sleeping too much, and self-harmful behaviour. There are subtle behaviours, too. Alia says, “Look out for indirect signs of them sort of saying goodbye such as giving away possessions and asking people to really take care of themselves as if they may not be there in the long run. Don’t take these signs lightly as these too are clues to someone crying out for help.”
Alia is a suicide-loss survivor herself. Having lost a loved one to suicide 10 years ago, the deeply painful experience is what led her to the advocacy of suicide awareness, and the formation of AWAS. “It’s necessary, especially today, because I feel like stigma is a poison that is holding people back from reaching out for help. People are ashamed, or embarrassed, or afraid of judgement from the society.”
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AWAS focuses on three things: suicide awareness, suicide prevention and suicide postvention. “Suicide awareness is self-explanatory; we do talks and programmes in relation to the awareness of suicide. We have a texting hotline as texting is appealing to youngsters. One of the reasons for that is because if you look at the Malaysian statistics from the years 2019, 2020, and 2021, there are a total of 1708 recorded suicide deaths in these three years. Out of 1708 deaths, more than half, around 890, are of the ages 15 to 18 years old. Due to that, we decided to do a texting careline so that when these youngsters reach out to us, they don’t feel intimidated. This is where our suicide prevention work happens,” Alia shares.
“If you’re suicidal, we encourage you to go seek professional help. On top of which, we will also chaperone you as you head to your first appointment. Then, we have postvention. This is a programme that happens specifically when a suicide death has occurred within a community. We will have a session with a mental health professional and I too will share my lived experience as a suicide loss survivor. They need to know that whatever they’re going through is a normal response to trauma. And if they need to seek out help, we can support them.”
If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts, reach out directly to the AWAS careline here.