Mental health is fast becoming one of the most common issues among Malaysians, with 29% of the population estimated to be suffering from depression and anxiety in 2017, and the number is expected to continue increasing.
What’s more alarming is that the chances of depression leading to suicide is real and often it is not easy for those around a depressed person to detect the downward spiral of the mental health of the people around them.
Case in point: the suicides of beloved Hollywood actor Robin Williams and Linkin’ Park lead vocalist Chester Bennington several years ago.
In both cases, news reports indicated that the victims seemed happy and ‘normal’ before they took their own lives, their history of depression aside.
This does not mean that there is no way for you to detect or help loved ones.
Social media, for example, is becoming one of the space that many seem to communicate through and you should pay attention to any changes or outright cry for help on these platforms.
The case of a Sarawakian teenager jumping to her death after posting a poll on her Instagram asking her followers if she should D/L (it is assumed that D stands for die and L for live) few months ago, is an example of the role social media is playing in people’s lives.
You can read more about social media and mental health here.
Other clues can be found in a person’s day-to-day interactions and activities.
We spoke to Malaysia Mental Health Association (MMHA) president Datuk Dr. Andrew Mohanraj and referred to our best friend, Google, to understand how to detect and help loved ones struggling with mental health issues.
What to do if someone expresses suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues?
More people are turning to social media to express themselves - in good ways and bad.
The tragic case of a Sarawakian teenager is an example of such cases. So, what can you do if someone you follow on social media platforms or know in real life display suicidal tendencies or seem to struggle with other mental health issues?
“Simple messages like ‘it’s ok, I know you must be in a difficult situation. Can I help you get in touch with someone to talk to?’ could have helped,” Dr. Andrew said speaking specifically about the case of the teenager.
He also said that in instances such as with the teenager, any non-judgmental, empathetic support could have made a difference.
If someone close to you seem to be struggling with mental health issues and are possibly suicidal, these are some of the steps you could take to help them.
Talk to them
If you feel like someone close to you are acting in an unusual way - if they say they are feeling ‘empty’, numb, eat and sleep more or lesser than usual etc. (we’ll get into symptoms later), start a conversation about it.
Tell them that you have noticed a difference and feel concerned. Avoid sounding judgmental or saying things like ‘you’ll get over it’ as it may alienate them even more.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal. It may offend some if they are not, but better safe than sorry.
It is important to remind them that they are not alone and have people to lean on.
Sometimes, even getting out of bed or putting on a nice outfit can seem like a huge task to those feeling depressed. Same goes to taking steps to getting out of their depressive state.
This does not mean that they are lazy or don’t want to get better.
Support them and help them take small steps to recovery. Encourage them to talk to professional and if needed, drive them to their appointments.
It’s not personal
Remember that when a depressed person seems to be distant, fail to connect emotionally or last out in anger, it isn’t you or even them, it’s the disease.
Be patient and try to understand where they are in terms of their mental state.
Don’t act like everything is sunshine and rainbows
Life does not work that way in the best of times. Pretending nothing is wrong and making excuses will not make the problem go away.
In fact, it may cause delay in the person seeking treatment, which in extreme cases could be a fatal mistake.
Don’t guilt trip
Don’t make a depressed or suicidal person feel guilty about their condition or the situation they are in.
Show some empathy and avoid saying things like ‘snap out of it’, ‘others have it worse, learn to be more grateful’, ‘you’re worrying everyone around you’ and other sentiments that could make them feel worse.
Encourage to get professional help
As much as we’d like to be the person family or friends turn to during difficult times, it’s not easy to help someone with mental health issues without proper training.
Nudge your family or friend to get help, do research with them and look for options, and if possible, follow them to their first appointment.
If the person is suicidal, be aware of suicide helplines and share it with them. Know who to call and how to help if something unfortunate happens.
Signs you should be looking out for
Depressed or suicidal person don’t always come out and say that they are going through a depressive period or are thinking of ending it.
However, they often show signs that you can look out for.
Don’t seem to care about anything anymore
If someone close to you seems to lose interest in life, sex, food, music or anything else that they usually enjoy especially for a prolonged time, you should start worrying.
Depressed people often feel numb, and do not see the purpose in anything, which leads to them not seeing the point to life.
They may also feel extreme sadness and are sometimes tearful for no apparent reason.
Feel negatively about life
We all go through periods where we question the point of life.
However, in the case of a depressed person, their feelings may be more intense and the hopelessness of life becomes more of a focus.
This could lead to suicide, so it is important to notice if a person seems to look at life with bleakness for a prolonged period.
Tiredness and complaints of pain
When even small tasks seem to tire them out or they complain of feeling drained all the time, your radars should be tingling.
Depressed people also tend to complain about aches and pains such as headaches, stomachaches and back pain.
Anger and irritability
Little things could tick off this person, they get angry easily and lash out at those around them or are just generally too prickly for others to comfortably deal with them.
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
If a person starts eating more or lesser than usual, it may be an indication of depression. Same goes for sleeping.
When you should start really worrying
Not all depressed person will try to commit suicide but if you notice these signs, you should be more alert and deal with the situation accordingly.
Dr. Andrew reminded that it is important to empathise with suicidal people and not blame them for the situation they find themselves in.
“Sometimes, people tend to make the suicidal person feel guilty or imply that there is a defect in their personality and that’s why they can’t cope with the situation.
“Depression must be understood to illness rather than a personality weakness,” he said.
Talking about suicide
If someone close to you talks about suicide, take them seriously. Some believe that a person who openly talk about taking their life will not do it, but this is not true.
Get their hands on lethal things
If your loved ones start buying things like knives, poison, rope or other materials that could be used for suicide, especially if they were already talking about taking their life, stay close and try to get professional help as soon as possible.
If a person seems to hate themselves and start distancing themselves from those close to them, you should start worrying.
They might also dwell excessively on past mistakes, say that people are better off without them and be generally detached from others.
Getting affairs in order
If someone who’s been too tired to even get out of bed or take a shower suddenly starts getting all their affairs in order, it may be a sign they have decided to kill themselves.
Talk to them about the changes and keep a close watch.
If a depressed person starts saying goodbye, whether in person or on social media, or starts apologising for any mistakes they may have made in the past, it may be a sign that they have given up.
Dr. Andrew also warned people to be wary of “smiling depression”.
“When a depressed person makes up his mind to end his life, he is at peace with himself and can appear calm and settled just like how Robin Williams was just before he took his life,” he said.
If you know someone who is suicidal, give them Befrienders’s contact (603-79568145 or email firstname.lastname@example.org ) so they have someone to talk to at the crucial time even if they don’t feel comfortable reaching out to those close to them.
You can find a list of therapists near you here, if you wish to recommend one to your loved ones.