WE NEED to talk about mental health in the Klang Valley.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, there has been a surge in the number of suicides in the city.
A total of 122 suicide cases were reported in Selangor between January and December last year. And 65 suicide cases were reported in Subang Jaya alone from 2011 to 2015.
Last month, a 41-year-old man and his 36-year-old wife were reported to have committed suicide in Ampang over mounting debts and on July 25, a 50-year-old engineer shot himself with a rifle in Shah Alam.
While many may have missed these reports, Malaysians and the rest of the world are not able to deny the elephant in the room when a celebrity commits suicide.
On July 20, Chester Bennington, lead singer of US rap-rock band Linkin Park, committed suicide at the age of 41, bringing the issue of mental health and depression to the forefront.
Unfortunately, the conversations that are often sparked tend to largely focus on what led to the suicide.
Commentators will opine on social media about how the victim probably suffered from some form of abuse or addiction.
What we need to understand is that suicidal tendencies and mental illness are a result of depression and is not exclusive to a specific geographic area, gender or age group.
Depression can affect anyone, anywhere.
While suicide is criminalised in Malaysia, depression is stigmatised, preventing many sufferers from seeking professional help.
Unlike a broken leg or a bleeding wound, it is difficult to identify depression because people are unable to “see” it and help those afflicted.
For an individual battling chronic depression, simple tasks such as eating, driving or even dressing up can seem impossible.
On top of their internal struggles, these individuals tend to be ostracised, penalised or judged unfairly for lacking enthusiasm or failing to fit society’s standards of “normal” behaviour.
Getting professional help can be expensive and difficult to justify, especially when most of the cure requires rest and avoiding potential trigger points, be they tasks, places or people.
Still, there is a lot that we can do as a community.
By understanding what constitutes depression, looking out for its signs, earnestly asking “How are you?” and waiting for a person’s full response, we can create a community that cares.
Be it a friend, family member or colleague, if you notice someone you see every day experiencing a sudden loss of weight, avoiding social gatherings or appearing dishevelled, irritable and exhausted, reach out to them.
Pay closer attention to your neighbours, especially if they are elderly folk living on their own.
If your neighbour has not left his house for a few days or there is a change in routine, for instance, if you do not see him on his morning walk or having breakfast at the coffee shop, ring his doorbell and check on him.
Following the surge in suicide cases, some neighbourhood groups have taken the initiative to put up posters with contact information and encouragement to those suffering from depression.
In the online world, if you come across any Facebook friends or Twitter followers posting seemingly morbid sentences and photographs or sounding hopeless and helpless, you should extend a helping hand by sending them a thoughtful message or links to support groups.
Children and young adults are also susceptible to depressive tendencies and if you find they are isolating themselves, having difficulty sleeping or lack appetite, you should talk to them and alert the school counsellor.
Suicidal tendencies are often the result of feeling alone in a crowd and helpless about your circumstances, if you are able to pick up on your own signs of a downward spiral but are not equipped with the resources to get help, immediately see a general practitioner to get the assistance you need.
There is no shame in seeking professional help for depression or a mental illness, and we must create a caring community that is able to spot the signs and proactively assist as much as we are able to.
If you need help, call the Befrienders 24-hour hotline at 03-7956 8144/5 or visit www.befrienders.org.my