Singapore

'Support is vital in preventing suicide'

Malaysian teen who killed herself after Instagram poll may have sought online validation because of lack of family, social support: Expert

Lack of family and social support may have led a suicidal Malaysian teen to seek reassurance and validation online rather than discussing her difficulties with family, close friends or professional counsellors, said a local psychiatrist.

Dr Jacob Rajesh, senior consultant psychiatrist at Promises Healthcare, was commenting on the suicide of the 16-year-old girl in Kuching, Sarawak, who had asked her followers on Instagram to vote if she should live or die.

She was said to have been emotionally upset after her stepfather, with whom she was close, remarried.

Her post was headlined, "Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L", which meant "Death/Life", said district police chief Aidil Bolhassan, quoting a close friend of the victim.

Sixty-nine per cent of those polled chose option "D".

The girl then jumped to her death.

The tragedy was reported globally, sparking concern on the mental health of teens around the world.

Malaysian police are investigating the death. It is a criminal offence to encourage or assist in the suicide of a minor.

Dr Rajesh told The New Paper: "Her reasons for the poll may have been her own maladaptive way of seeking validation or reassurance from the anonymous online community, which unfortunately made it worse and precipitated her suicide."

Shocked by the incident, Tanjong Katong Secondary School student Muhammad Amir Abdul Jalil, 16, said: "I feel like social media nowadays has power over people's actions, especially teens... It is absurd to let other people decide whether you take your life."

Suicide prevention centre Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) told TNP it is a myth that people who talk about suicide are not serious about doing it.

"In fact, individuals who kill themselves have often talked to someone that they feel life is not worth living and they feel hopeless. Some may have even expressed that they want to die," said an SOS spokesman.

It added that when warning signs are brushed off as an attempt to seek attention, the perceived lack of support can be so overwhelming that the troubled person might see death as the only way out of his or her pain and suffering.

Assistant Professor Saifuddin Ahmed from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information does not think teenagers like posts or vote on polls without thought, but their thoughts could be misdirected.

He said: "It is like joining the bandwagon of a trending post. What facilitates this behaviour is the lack of accountability attached to their actions on social media. We, as a society, must do better to raise social media literacy among teens."

On Instagram, searches including "suicide", "self-harm" and "depression" prompted a pop-up that provides options on seeking help and support from one's local community.

Dr Rajesh said YouTube also has many videos devoted to suicide prevention, including public service announcements.

Mrs Hui Mah, 51, the principal director of Babyplanet and Planet Montessori, does not feel the need to monitor the social media usage of her sons, who are 15 and 13 years old.

Instead, she and her husband believe in talking to them about their day in school, their friends, daily activities and what they have seen on social media without judgment.

She said: "The boys have shared that a friend of theirs has been posting morbid pictures with dark captions. After our family discussion, they decided to reach out to help him.

"Many teenagers these days are lonely. Hence, family and parental support plays a pivotal role.

"Sometimes engaging them only when they are teenagers may be difficult and a little too late. Always start them young."

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