Ravindran Raman Kutty (inset), an avid writer, community worker, an award winning communications practitioner and a social activist, with a profound love for the environment, shares his take on a grim subject matter, student suicide.
KUALA LUMPUR: National statistics indicate suicide incidents are on the rise, particularly amongst young men.
Yet most people who attempt suicide are ambivalent about killing themselves – frequently what they seek is to put a stop to unbearable feelings or a situation that seems intolerable.
Someone who is suicidal may well be feeling frightened, trapped, hopeless, helpless, confused and distressed – and desperate to escape from his or her emotional suffering rather than actually wanting to die. But at times like this suicide can feel like the only way out.
National statistics indicate the ratio of suicides from 2007 to 2010 was 1.3 for every 100,000 people. Of the 1,156 people who committed suicide over the three-year period, the majority were aged between 24 and 44.
The same statitics also show that men outnumber women three to one, while the Chinese had the highest number of suicides at 48 per cent, followed by Indians (21 per cent), Malays (18 per cent) and other races (13 per cent).
However, what really concerns me is the reported cases of student suicide.
Young people face intolerable pressure from an education system that focuses heavily on academic grading. From an early age, they face immense pressure, be it from the parents or from their peers, to perform well in their examinations.
For instance, there are many Malaysian students who think their SPM results as the key to their future. There is then the pressure on them to do well in this public examination. Many end up disappointed for not being able to fulfill their parents’ expectations.
The case of a form five student at SMK Raja Abdullah here last November, could fall under this category. While student suicide figures are not available, over the years the media had reported a number of students who had ended their lives for academic reasons.
For some students a period of depression will lead to suicide while for the others it is likely to be an impulsive act, perhaps triggered by a traumatic experience. For example the death of a loved one, or by a relatively insignificant event which may be seen as the ‘final straw’.
The following is a list of some of the feelings and experiences that may contribute to someone feeling suicidal: Loneliness – developing into the all-consuming feeling that there is no-one there and that no-one really cares or will notice whether they live or die.
Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness – where the student feels that no matter what he does, nothing seems to get better, and that no-one is able to help.
Feelings of worthlessness, of being ‘a waste of space’ – he/she will never amount to anything, and that any care, interest, or encouragement shown would be unjustified or based on a false premise.
Convinced they are not worth caring about; such people are likely to have very low self-esteem, and to not readily accept compliments or praise.
Depression – in those who are clinically depressed, their perceptions of themselves, others and their situation are usually unduly negative. Many of the above feelings are not only common but are also felt to be unquestionably true.
Plans falling through – especially where the goals have considerable personal importance – e.g. not settling well at university, the break-up of an important relationship, or a student not achieving her/his academic goals. As a result the student can feel inadequate, a failure, ashamed, and unlovable.
Inappropriately high levels of stress – of the kind experienced by those who have been high achievers, in particular, who feel that their academic success is crucial to their personal identity are at high risk.
To such people, the idea of not getting a 1st can be felt as an utter and unbearable humiliation.
Suicide can sometimes be seen as the act of someone who is very angry, perhaps even as an act of revenge, (for example after the ending of a relationship).
Alcohol and drugs – for some a suicide attempt may be an impulsive act when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In this state a person may seriously underestimate the risks of their actions, and be more vulnerable to the above feelings.
A history of mental or physical illness, which has been debilitating and draining.
Feeling overwhelmed – when problems in a number of areas of life occur at the same time – for example academic problems, a family crisis, and the ending of a relationship – the sense of pain may be overwhelming.
The above reasons are findings based on a study made in Cambridge and Harvard, while we are all familiar with most of the reasons; I think it is equally important to look into the ways in which we impart knowledge at our schools.
I certainly would urge the education ministry to look into a holistic education system which balances academic excellence with psychological development of the students, providing them with an option in life.
Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) is the turning point for every student in our nation.
Look into their syllabus and pep it up with music, art, culture, values and sports which would bring about a balance and less stressed students and individuals who are moderate, intelligent and sensible.
Counseling can be a treatment, but looking into the root cause would be a better alternative.
Suicide is a serious issue. It should not be taken lightly. Everyone should play a role in helping the young who are tempted or forced to take a drastic action to end their lives.
(This commentary is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect on BERNAMA’s stand on what is said by the writer)