Learning about depression and suicide

Some 300 attended the public talk on ‘Understanding Depression and Suicide’ organised by Wawasan Open University (WOU) and Befrienders Penang at the main campus.

Crowd at the talk.

Crowd at the talk.

Dr Lai Fong Hwa, consultant psychiatrist at Penang Hospital, pointed out the difference between normal sadness and depressive illness in which the symptoms of depression last more than two weeks.

He shared that is alright to ask if someone is thinking of ending it all if they are depressed or feeling hopeless. “Ask him his plan. If he does, then stay with him, and try to contact family members and give them the warning. The will to kill lasts few hours to 1-2 days. Usually the suicidal intent is short-lived, so it’s important to help them pass through this critical period,” he stated.

He highlighted that the treatment for depression were strenuous exercise, medications, and psychotherapy (counselling). He advised that in mild to moderate depression, the person should take medication and seek psychotherapy. He suggested that for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding, psychotherapy was certainly the first line of approach.

Dr Lai shares on depressants.

Dr Lai shares on depressants.

On the side-effects and overdose of anti-depressants, Dr Lai said he was more concerned with under-treatment than over treatment of depression.  “Doctors fear to prescribe anti-depressants while people are more careful about the warning on the box.”
He however cautioned that anti-depressants are for depressive illness, and not for normal sadness. He said there may be mild side-effects like nausea, vomitting or diarrhoea, and that long-term usage does not affect the liver or kidneys.

Earlier in her talk, Befrienders Penang vice chairperson Saras Pillay, expressed concern over the growing number of suicide in the country especially among the young since the high risk group is 16 to 25 years.

According to her, depression heightens one’s sense of hopelessness and rejection. “Depression is not a sign of weakness, imaginary, and not a bad mood or state that people can just snap out it,” she said, adding that depression interrupts the ability to work or sleep, preventing the person from functioning normally.

She said statistics show that 9% of Malaysians suffer from depression, with the number increasing in children and women twice more likely to get depressed than men.

Saras from Befrienders.

Saras from Befrienders.

She indicated that the usual causes of depression or suicide are: relationship problems; loss of job; financial problems; illness; family history; grief; retirement; loneliness; death of a loved one; divorce or separation; physical, verbal or sexual abuse; legal problems; and being vicitmised.

She said the way to help someone who is suicidal is to acknowledge and accept their feelings, give them full attention, encourage them to talk, listen without judgement, and avoid trying to offer solutions or belittle them.

Meanwhile Befrienders Penang chairman Philip Saw gave an overview of the scary trend of suicides. He said one million die from suicide every year, that is, a global mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, according to WHO estimates. “This translates to 4,000 suicides a year in Malaysia for a population of 25 million. For every death through suicide, more than 20 others have attempted suicide. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased 60% worldwide,” he pointed out.

Among those who attended the session – which was the first in a series of public talks planned by the School of Foundation and Liberal Studies - were about 100 students from KDU Penang pursuing courses on nursing, mass communications, and business.