Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New strategy to combat suicides

 Five-year plan will address root of the problem, says health minister

CONCERNED over the increasing suicide rate, the Health Ministry is set to initiate a five-year plan to tackle the issue.

Dubbed the Strategic Action Plan for Suicide Prevention, the plan, expected to be launched in October, will map strategies to address the root of the problem.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Liow Tiong Lai (pic) said his ministry was concerned over the rising number of suicides in Malaysia, with 1,516 cases recorded from 2007 to 2010.

Liow believed the number could be higher, as there were many cases where post mortems were not conducted.

In 2008, the ministry’s survey showed that there were 290 suicide cases in the country, followed by 328 in 2009.

“This is a worrying trend. We need to implement the strategic action plan soon to address the issue,” he told a press conference at the ministry yesterday.

Based on the ministry’s statistics, men were more likely to commit suicide than women, the former making up an overwhelming 75 per cent of the total.

Those who committed suicide were usually aged between 24 and 44 years.

Liow said that among the major influences were drugs and substance abuse.

“However, there are underlying circumstances like emotional trouble, which are amplified by drug use,” he said.

“The survey also showed that women have a higher prevalent mental disorder with 2.3 per cent, compared to men with only 1.4 per cent. There is also an increase in mental health problems among children and teenagers with 20 per cent recorded last year, rising from 19.4 per cent in 2006.”

The National Health Morbidity Survey, conducted last year, showed that 1.7 per cent of the adult population in the country had had ideas of committing suicide, 0.9 per cent planned to commit suicide and 0.5 per cent had attempted suicide.

He said that although Malaysia’s current suicide rate was low (1:3 per 100,000) compared to other countries, the ministry was taking serious measures.

“A recent World Health Organisation survey disclosed that a suicide occurs every 40 seconds worldwide. It also showed that 10 to 20 million people attempt suicide annually, with an average of a million deaths every year.”

Liow said the ministry had outlined an eight-prong strategy, which included mental health promotion, early detection and treatment of mental problems as well as inter-agency networking using NGOs and the media.

The ministry would also train more psychiatrists and clinical psychologists to address the shortage of medical practitioners.

“The ratio is now at one psychiatrist per 150,000. The ideal ratio should be one per 50,000,” he said, urging the public to erase the stigma that only “crazy people” go for mental checkups.

“Everyone has stress, be it work- or family-related. If you ignore it, it can aggravate matters and you would not know your breaking point,” he said.

Liow said one of the initiatives was to open a mental health community centre in every state.

He said that in the past, mental health services were only available in Tanjung Rambutan in Perak and the Permai Psychiatric Hospital in Johor.

“The opening of mental health community centres would provide rehabilitation for schizophrenia patients to enable them to lead a more productive life in the community,” he said.

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