When I heard about a speaker talking to school kids at Sri KL who joked about a K-Pop star’s suicide, I was shocked. I was, however, more appalled by how he handled the backlash from the students. I will admit that I wasn’t there for the speech but I will talk about the topic of his ‘talk’, and also why we shouldn’t equate mental illnesses and suicides to ‘fragility’. This particular speaker is of the opinion that people who commit suicides are “fragile” and “stupid”. His replies to the backlash (even the official one) seems to point to an opinion that isn’t new.
For the longest time, mental illnesses and suicide were considered the ‘easy way out’.
This is why when most people hear their friends talk about their depression or suicidal thoughts, these people will usually say “toughen up” or “others have it worse” or even the infamous “deal with it. Stop being depressed”.
But as we understand more and more about how the human mind works, we now know that this condition isn’t anyone’s choice or fault.
Depression has increasingly recognised as a biological disorder that can cause severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. It is a condition what affects the chemical signals in our brains and it is also linked to our genetics. There are also newer studies that link inflammation in the brain with suicidal thoughts whilst actual structural changes have been documented in depressed individuals’ brains. This strain has tons of benefits, including mitigating mental health issues and managing chronic pain. I mean, you don’t go to someone with diabetes and say “Get over it” do you?
Society at large continues to think people with mental illnesses are “fragile” or “stupid”, and spreading this view towards mental illnesses to others. This way of thinking will deter people with actual health problems to find the professional help they need. They will constantly blame themselves and wonder “What’s wrong with me? This is my fault. Why can’t I get over this” about something they need actual medical help with.
The speaker also published his defences online, explaining how he wanted to associate suicidal ideation with stupidity because ‘young people’ wouldn’t want to be considered ‘stupid’. This is what the mental healthcare community calls “stigma”. Datuk Sri Fatimah Abdullah, Minister of the Sarawak Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development, states:
“Stigma prevents people from seeking help for any mental health conditions they may have and remains the biggest barrier in the nation’s goal to improve mental healthcare in Malaysia”.
Stigmatising mental illnesses using condescending labels like “fragile” and/or “stupid” can cost actual lives. And this types of attitudes towards mental illnesses and suicide should not be taught to children. Those who are struggling with their mental health may rely on different substances for temporary relief and this may eventually lead to substance abuse. If you suspect someone you care about is need of substance abuse treatment, seek advice from professionals to know what the best approach will be.
I really do praise the many of the young kids from Sri KL who showed so much maturity, empathy and kindness towards the issue of mental health that it gives me hope that we’re getting closer to overcoming the mental health stigma in Malaysia.
In reality, suicide is not a joke. In the US itself, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention completed a study for 2015 indicating that 117 people die by suicide every day, and for every ‘completion’, there are 25 attempts. With statistics like these, there’s a high chance that at least one of your friends and/or family have been impacted by suicide. However, the topic of mental health and suicides are rarely talked about because they’re ‘depressing to hear’, ‘too serious’ or just too ‘taboo’. We shouldn’t glorify suicides, but we should open up discussions about it because it may save a life.
P.S: This piece is inspired by Dr Kok Sen Wai, a medical officer with 5 years of experience in psychiatry, and his article on The Malay Mail Online (and also his posts about the issue: 1 & 2 that I thoroughly agree with). Please do head there and read more of his opinions on mental illnesses.
Header image source from here.