Penang government must step up efforts to introduce long-term suicide prevention programs, mental health expert says

The regional director of the International College of Clinical Hypnotherapy Practitioners Asia said there was a need to raise awareness about ways to deal with suicidal tendencies, stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness. — AFP photo

By Opalyn Mok

Friday, May 27, 2022 07:00 MYT

GEORGE TOWN, May 27 – The Penang state government should take a proactive role and organize mental health campaigns in schools, institutions and workplaces as a measure to prevent suicides, the expert in mental health Synthia Surin.

The regional director of the International College of Clinical Hypnotherapy Practitioners Asia said there was a need to raise awareness about ways to deal with suicidal tendencies, stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness.

She said authorities could no longer wait for people to contact non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or helplines.

“The state needs to reach out to these people and the best place is to start in schools so that from an early age they acquire the knowledge to deal with feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts or know what steps to take to ask for help,” she said.

She said mental health programs should be mandatory for students.

She said in her work they found that Penang had the highest number of calls related to suicides compared to other states.

“So the state government needs to do something about it. They can create a think tank of people from all walks of life, not just professionals,” she said.

She said the state can also organize large-scale campaigns in schools and workplaces, and even work with multinational companies to reach more people.

“The state government will say they have PgCARE, but the state can’t just depend on NGOs to do that,” she said.

She pointed out that these are NGOs with counselors who may not be specialized or fully trained in suicide prevention.

She said there have been instances where advisers from these NGOs simply advised those calling the care line ‘to exercise’ or ‘listen to music’ instead of approaching the main reasons why the caller felt suicidal.

“We need to get the message across that it’s okay to not be well, it’s okay to feel hopeless, and it’s okay to seek help if you feel hopeless and have suicidal tendencies.” , she said.

Synthia said the state should reach out to people to conduct awareness and education campaigns instead of waiting for them to call PgCARE for help.

“The state can even collaborate with multinationals to organize these large-scale campaigns,” she said.

The PgCare Society is an alliance of NGOs that was formed in 2021 to address short and long term mental health, food relief and employment needs due to the impacts of the Covid pandemic -19.

Synthia believed that the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts may have played a role in the rise in suicide cases nationwide.

“It happens, but these suicide cases have been swept under the rug. People don’t want to talk about it. There is still so much stigma attached to it,” she said.

She said there is a need to demystify suicide and mental health issues, and that comes through education.

Inti International College Penang psychology professor Brian John Dorai agreed there is a need to educate and de-stigmatize so that people are more open to asking for help when faced with thoughts suicidal.

He agreed with Synthia that mental health awareness should be cultivated in schools, colleges, workplaces and the public.

He added that the media also plays a role in suicide prevention when reporting such cases.

“Cases of suicide in the media should be reported responsibly with education about the resources available to those in need,” he said.

Brian, who volunteers with Befrienders Penang and Shalom Careline, said they get many callers who mention seeing the numbers in the news.

Synthia agreed that the media play a role in educating and raising awareness about mental health issues as a way to de-stigmatize them.

Regarding the recent spate of suicide cases at the Penang Bridge, Brian suggested that large notice boards with phone numbers of care lines such as Befrienders be placed along the bridge.

“We already have a lot of billboards with advertisements, so it’s also good to put some with positive messages,” he said.

* Those facing mental health issues can contact the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935/014-3223392); Talian Kasih (15999/019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Befrienders Penang (04-2811108/04-2815161/04-2910100) or visit befrienders.org.my and PgCARE (04-642777/04-2910123) or visit pgcarealliance.com.