Depression and other mental health issues haven’t always received the attention they deserve in Malaysia. Without sufficient awareness and education, it’s all too easy to shun and stigmatise. Suicide, especially as a result of depression, is even more of a taboo.
But mental issues and the risks they carry are all too real, and in the wake of the tragic high profile suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, we reached out to the Malaysian Mental Health Association to help share what you need to know about depression and suicide.
A Death Like No Other: A press statement by the Malaysian Mental Health Association
Within a span of one week Anthony Bourdain, a popular television personality and designer Kate Spade, committed suicide after battling with depression. Death by suicide stuns with soul-crushing surprise, leaving family friends and fans not only grieving the unexpected death, but confused and lost by this haunting loss.
About 350 million people all over the world battle with depression every day of their lives. This condition doesn’t just affect its victims, but brings pain to their loved ones as well, yet many of us are in denial of this reality. One million people commit suicide every year worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that for every successful suicide there are 20 other suicidal attempts being made. Lives lost through suicide exceeds that lost through homicide and terrorism.
Depression remains the main cause of suicide all over the world and despite science supporting a neurobiological basis for depression, suicide is still shrouded by stigma. People look at death by suicide as something shameful and sinful. Others blame family members for its outcome.
Ironically, the primary goal of a suicide is not to end life, but to escape from pain. People in the grips of severe depression are battling an emotional agony where living becomes objectionable.
In some people as in the case of Anthony Bourdain, depression could be masked. People with this type of depression appear to carry on with life but inside them, they suffer from feelings of worthlessness, shame and self-loathing. Not only Bourdain but many famous personalities including those in our country battle with depression yet project a happy, bubbly public persona.
It is likely that with most instances of clinical depression, the production and transmission of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters is disrupted. These chemicals are serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. For example, a decrease in the production of serotonin can cause low mood and suicidal thoughts. Therefore, for people suffering from depression, it is not a mood that one can “snap out of”. Besides abnormal functioning of chemicals in the brain, other factors like hereditary, stress and personality contribute to the development of depression.
Psychological treatment – or what is commonly known as ‘talking therapy” – for mild depression may provide a supportive environment for a person to work through difficulties. Mental health professionals like psychiatrists and clinical psychologists can help by providing skills and strategies to change negative thinking patterns and behaviours that contribute to depression.
Antidepressant medications, prescribed by psychiatrists, are drugs that help restore the brain’s chemical balance to improve mood and relieve other symptoms of depression. In more severe depression, a combination of both antidepressant medication and psychological treatment has been shown to be most helpful. If the depression is severe and debilitating, or if the urge to act out the suicidal thought becomes overwhelming, a brief stay in an inpatient setting might be extremely beneficial.
Depression is not something to be ashamed of, or something to feel guilty about. It is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. With early detection and support from family and friends, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
There needs to be a more concerted multi stakeholder approach to tackle the issue of depression in our country. By the year 2030, depression is likely to overtake cardiovascular diseases as the number one cause of disability in the workplace, worldwide. Although the incidence of suicide in our country remains much lower than in other countries like Japan, India and Sri Lanka, we must start taking proactive measures to detect and to some extend prevent depression particularly in the workplace and among students ,if we want to build a mentally resilient society.
– Dato’ Dr Andrew Mohanraj, President of the Malaysian Mental Health Association.