Friday, July 6, 2018

A Suicide That Didn't Succeed


Malaysia’s New Straits Times had reported that a Form 3 student drank a bottle of herbicide paraquat, which he allegedly found in a toilet at his school in Buntong, Ipoh in Perak – in an apparent suicide attempt. 

He was rushed to the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital by a teacher on June 28, 2018 after he was found vomiting. He is now said to be in stable condition. 

Thankfully, he survived – but what about the others who couldn’t be reached in time and who couldn’t be saved? 

We are not taking suicide seriously because we are not taking the issue of mental health seriously.

A BBC News report by Sean Coughlan published on April 13, 2018 raised the alarm that in the UK, the suicide rate among students is higher than among the general population of their age group. 

The article cited Hong Kong-based researchers who suggested that student suicide rates increased by 56% – from 6.6 to 10.3 per 100,000 of the population after they analyzed student suicides between 2007 and 2016. 

The 2016 figures showed 146 student suicides, the highest in records going back to 2001. Between 2001 and 2007, there had been a pattern of falling numbers, but since then numbers have tended to rise. 

These figures however, did not specify the type of "student", whether at university or some other form of study. 

But the Office for National Statistics rightly cautioned that this data "cannot be used to ascertain the risk of suicide among students". 

Still, Edward Pinkney, who tracked student suicide data and co-authored the analysis said: "This is the first time we can conclusively say that as far as suicide is concerned, there is a real problem in higher education". 

Already, an Institute of Public Policy Research analysis had suggested that almost five times as many students as 10 years ago have disclosed a mental health condition to their university (BBC News, September 04, 2017). 

In 2015-16, more than 15,000 UK-based first-year students disclosed mental health issues while the 2006 figure was about 3,000 – the rise risks overwhelming university services, the IPPR claimed. 

Universities UK said student mental health was "a strategic priority". 

Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham and a campaigner on student well-being, said: "Student suicide rates and emotional distress levels could be reduced at university if we acted differently”. 

He maintained that "more support in transitions, better tutoring and early warning, more peer to peer support, an enhanced sense of belonging, would all enhance wellbeing and reduce risk”. 

And he added: "We are obsessed by reactive policy once students hit the bottom of the waterfall; we need to be putting preventative policies in place to prevent them ever tipping over the edge". 

Rightly so. Malaysian schools and colleges and universities will do well to pay heed to this advice.

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