Depression & Suicide - Are You OK?

It was quite a shocker to listen to the radio announcers sharing that they have experienced depressed people calling in during their show, especially in the night slots. In the Mamak Sessions podcast, Jin Lim, known as Jinnyboy or Jin initially thought it was just 'kids' that is pranking because it is 'fun' to talk to a radio DJ. 

"I was going through a very depressive state, and I'm so happy that you entertain my every call"  

However, he realized later the significance of these 'fun calls' a few years later. He often received text messages thanking him for entertaining their calls during their depressive state.

National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 found half a million Malaysians depressed

Image source via Institute for Public Health

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a common illness worldwide and it is the global leading cause of disability. Approximately 322 million people are living with depression and a staggering 50% lives in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific region.

The Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 found that about 500,000 adults are depressed, and over 420,000 children have mental health problems. More than 460 cases of attempted suicide were recorded by the Ministry of Health (MOH) between January to June this year.

Depression is a major contributor to suicide deaths

People who have severe depression have an increased suicide risk. This contributes to nearly 800,000 suicide deaths per year worldwide.

A study by the Tokyo Institute of Psychiatry found that depression has a close association with suicide. Many of them who committed suicide did not receive any psychiatric care or proper treatment.

Although depression is strongly linked to both suicidal ideation and attempt, it lacks specificity as a predictor. Not much information is known regarding the characteristics that increase the suicide risk amongst people in a depressive state.

Suicide Ideation is defined as thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.

Suicide Attempt is the non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behaviour with an intent to die due to the behaviour even if the behaviour does not result in injury.

Culture & Stigma

Be it directly or indirectly, we may come across people going through a depressive state and/or having suicidal thoughts at some point in our lives. It could be our family, friends, or colleagues. However, how many of them have the courage to reach out and seek help?

An article described the need to preserve and perpetuate collective honour of the family, ethnicity, society etc. is held in the highest esteem in the Asian culture. Hence, depression (and other mental health issues) can be seen as a sign of weakness and expressing oneself emotionally is rarely encouraged.

In any failure to uphold the honour, one feels the need to hide oneself physically and/or emotionally. This indeed may further intensify one's depressive state and/or suicidal thoughts.

In a BBC report, an employee was left feeling horrible and exposed when news about her depression spread across the office. The employee is one of the 300,000 people with mental health problems who leave their jobs every year.

An independent review, commissioned by then Prime Minister Theresa May, found that 35% of employees have a perception that having depression could hamper their career progression.

The challenge

"We, human beings, are very clever in wearing 'masks.' We can be sad, we can be grieving, and yet, in front of others, we don't want to show that face," said Mary Raj, from Befrienders, in a BFM interview.

Due to culture and stigma, one tends to mask their depression. This makes it increasingly difficult to 'identify' people going through depression.

However, noticing the changes in one's behaviour and listening closely to what they say may sometimes give themselves away. Mary added that showing that we care, not being judgemental while giving one the space to speak, this will encourage them to open up to you.

Sharing about his experience of having a close friend committed suicide, Vincent Pun from Befrienders came to a realization that many people behind a positive face lies a very lonely, sometimes depressed and sad person.

Destigmatize seeking help

Many platforms are available for people who are depressed and/or having suicidal thoughts to reach out and seek help. One such platform is Befrienders that operates 24 hours throughout the year.

Awareness programmes are also being carried out actively. We may have come across it everywhere, be it through the radio or social media. Even searching for the word 'suicide' on Facebook or Twitter will lead you to a page that encourages one to seek help.

twitter's page when you search 'suicide'
Facebook's page when you search 'suicide'


The Malaysian Health Coalition urged the government to over-invest in health by committing at least 4% of the GDP to the public healthcare system in Budget 2020. The coalition recommended for more resources being provided to build a future-proof architecture for mental health.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Suffering in silence is never a good solution. We must support those who are struggling - stopping the stigmas and opening up more dialogues. So that more and more of our loved ones, friends or even colleagues, who may be masking their sufferings, have the courage to reach out and seek help without any fear of prejudice or rejection.

If you or anyone you know is going through a difficult time, reach out.

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