Thinking that somebody might be trying to break in, I rushed to the window to see if there was anything or somebody at the balcony. There was no one.
Then, to my horror, I spied sprawled on the ground a body clad in a white T-shirt and shorts in a pool of blood. It was a gory and yet poignant sight. The thought that immediately came to mind was that a man had jumped to his death.
Looking back now at this sad incident, which happened two months ago, I am amazed at how I plucked up the courage to run around in the middle of the night, with the body lying within sight, to look for the guards and other residents for help.
It turned out that it was actually a young woman who had fallen from the 12th floor. She was still alive because she fell through a glassed walkway without hitting the ground directly. But her hips and legs were broken with some bones protruding out. Her mother, when she rushed to the scene, wailed loudly and her cries broke the stillness of the night. It was heart-wrenching.
I was rather traumatised by the incident: this ghastly scene kept flashing through my mind for a few weeks. I guess the experience could have been worse had it taken place during the just-concluded Hungry Ghost month.
Suicide is the antithesis of life and I find it ironic that a person who had no courage to face life had the courage to face a painful death.
It is said that for every person who commits suicide, at least five other people will suffer as they try to come to terms with the suicide of their loved ones. Studies have shown that children whose parents committed suicide could grow up to be depressed and, sometimes, suicidal adults if they do not receive proper care.
This explains why the wails of that grief-stricken mother still reverberate through my mind.
It is, therefore, disappointing to note that Sept 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, went past without any mention in our local media about suicide when it is a serious public health problem that is fast becoming our country's number two killer after heart disease.
Each year, nearly a million people around the globe commit suicide while 10 to 20 million attempt suicide at the same time.
Most religions do not approve of suicide as they view suicide as a sinful act of taking one's life which only God can take away.
It is interesting to note that only by this December will Malaysia know for the first time how prevalent suicides are when the first official data consisting of all suicide cases reported since July last year will be released by the National Suicide Registry of Malaysia.
However, from the little research I did, I discovered some disturbing facts about suicide in Malaysia and elsewhere:
- Between 1990 and 1995, about 400 people were admitted annually to University Hospital for injuries sustained in suicide attempts.
- In 2000, 53 children under the age of 11 and 1,837 people above the age of 12 attempted suicide and the youth suicide rate in Malaysia was estimated to be three in every 100,000.
- According to a Ministry of Health booklet published in 2004 entitled "Guidelines in the Management of Psychiatric Disorders", between 10 and 15 per cent of suicide bidders eventually succeeded in killing themselves and males were twice as likely to try again as females. The risk was particularly high in the first year after a failed attempt.
It also recorded that suicide rates increased with age with the highest among the elderly. Among men aged 65 and above, the suicide rate was 40 per 100,000, two to four times higher than the rate among women.
Among women, the findings revealed that most attempted suicides were in the 15-24 age group (283 per 100,000) and among men, the 25-34 age group (199 per 100,000). ("Unemployment driving men to attempt suicide" -- NST, Oct 31, 2004.)
- According to a 2006 estimate, 13 Malaysians in 100,000 kill themselves as opposed to eight in the 1980s. Of these, the suicide rate in the Indian community is the highest with 30 to 35 attempting suicide compared with 15 Chinese and six Malays in every 100,000.
However, the rates could even be higher as some cases were either unreported or under-reported due either to stigma and shame attached to suicide or because the deceased's life insurance would normally contain a clause denying payments on the ground of self-inflicted death.
- In Singapore, the total number of suicides in 2003 was 346. This went up to 419 in 2006 but it came down to 374 in 2007. Among those aged 65 years and above, suicides increased from 69 in 2006 to 87 last year. There, the suicide rate was 10.3 per 100,000 in 2006 and 9.15 per 100,000 last year.
- Kuwait and Iran have the lowest suicide rates in the world at two per 100,000 residents. Lithuania has the highest at 43 per 100,000 residents.
- In 2002, 18 out of every 100,000 Koreans committed suicide.
- In Japan, 30,000 people take their lives annually. This is about 90 suicides a day, which is the highest among developed countries.
It is said that the suicide rate is usually higher during an economic recession. Other common factors include stress, mental disorders, anxiety, depression, ailments, relationship problems, divorce, physical abuse, unemployment, drugs, bankruptcy and ageing.
The vast majority of those who committed suicide took poisons such as pesticides, jumped from high-rise buildings or hanged themselves.
Nevertheless, suicide is, in fact, a preventable death. Suicide is essentially due to a total loss of hope, which drives people wanting to rather die than live. Some experts have also described suicide happening when pain exceeds the resources of coping with it.
At the same time, many experts have advised that if we can get those who have suicidal thoughts to talk about their problems, there is still hope of preventing death.
Here, I find the information on the website of the Befrienders (www.befrienders.org.my) rather informative. According to the website, two of the many fallacies of suicide need to be debunked:
Firstly, persons who talk about suicide do not commit suicide. The fact is, of any 10 persons who will commit it, eight have given definite warnings of their suicidal intentions.
The second myth is that suicide happens without warning. Studies have revealed that suicidal persons give many clues and warnings regarding their suicidal intentions.
In this respect, it is good for the public to know the warning signs. The San Francisco Suicide Prevention Crisis Line has listed the following as possible warning signs:
- Talking about dying -- any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself or other types of self harm.
- Recent loss -- through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship; loss of job, money, status, self-confidence, self-esteem, religious faith; and loss of interest in friends, sex, hobbies or activities previously enjoyed.
- Change in personality -- sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive or apathetic.
- Change in behaviour -- can't concentrate at school, work or on routine tasks.
- Change in sleep patterns -- insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, or nightmares.
- Change in eating habits -- loss of appetite and weight, or overeating.
- Diminished sexual interest -- impotence or menstrual abnormalities (often missed periods).
- Fear of losing control -- going crazy, harming self or others.
- Low self esteem -- feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, or "everyone would be better off without me".
- No hope for the future -- believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change.
- Other things to watch for -- suicidal impulses, statements, plans; giving away favourite things; and previous suicide attempts, substance abuse, making out wills, arranging for the care of pets, extravagant spending, agitation, hyperactivity, restlessness or lethargy.
It follows that our professional counsellors and rescuers must be well equipped and trained to prevent suicide attempts, especially those wanting to jump from high rise buildings.
I remember in 2001, a 32-year-old woman plunged to her death from her 16th floor apartment at Plaza DNP, Johor Baru, after she was allegedly taunted by a member of the public to jump as he thought the woman could be frightened off from jumping.
A fireman from the Larkin Fire and Rescue Department managed to grab her hand but lost his grip due to a struggle.
The rescue operation was hampered as the department did not have any airbags or safety net to break her fall. Four airbags were immediately purchased after that.
All in all, if any reader reading this is feeling suicidal, I pray you will seek help or talk to someone. You owe it to yourself and family to do so.
Always remember that no one on this earth is devoid of stress or personal problems. There are many secular bodies out there that are waiting to help you.
Otherwise, in your quiet moments, you can also turn to God for God loves you. There is nothing impossible or insurmountable with God and I am sure when you seek Him, He will grant you spiritual healing.
Always remember too that where there is life, there is hope. So do not give up hope and the precious life that God has given you.
Published in the New Sunday Times, 14 September 2008