Your Mind Matters: Dr. Amer Siddiq Discusses Mental Health And Suicide

Leadership

October 24, 2018 | BY Rachel Ng

For some the light at the end of a tunnel means hope, but for others it means an escape from life itself. With the loss of several high-profile personalities just this year alone, the spotlight is once again squarely on the tough topic of suicide and inevitably, the state of our mental health. We pick the brain of Generation T honouree Dr. Amer Siddiq, consultant psychiatrist and advocate for mental health for his tips and thoughts on how to handle the delicate matters of suicide and mental health.

What are the most common triggers and causes for suicide or attempted suicide that you’ve encountered?

There are multiple triggers, however the most common have been undiagnosed depression, current unresolved stressors related to relationship issues and ongoing problems at work or school

 

Often, friends or family say “We never saw it coming, he/she was always so cheerful”. Are there ways of identifying symptoms or signs that may point to suicide?

It’s difficult to know when a person will take their life. However, some signs which one might want to take note are:

a. Undiagnosed depression. A person who is persistently sad for no apparent reason and is now talking about dying. This being apart from the fact that you have not seen him/her (they have started to isolate themselves)

b. They start talking about death a bit too much. It can be a subtle cry for help

c. They start to develop peculiar hobbies, an example include stocking on medications for example. More importantly they inform you.


There are studies which have found that romanticising suicide might increase risk of future suicidal attempts. More importantly, if explicit detail is provided, studies have found an increase of incidences of people trying the exact same method.


Suicide is romanticised a lot on social media sites as well as by shows. Additionally, some people choose to livestream their suicides or choose to upload such videos on easily accessible websites. What’s your take on this?

I find this irresponsible. There are studies which have found that romanticising suicide might increase risk of future suicidal attempts. More importantly, if explicit detail is provided, studies have found an increase of incidences of people trying the exact same method. Therefore, with such studies available, I find the role of media extremely important. Please don’t report sensational headlines, provide explicit details and more importantly don't support or appear to support such acts. Do also provide a helpline at the end.

A local study by a colleague in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) found that over a period of one year and four months, of the 246 articles on suicide found in seven online local papers, all of them explicitly documented how the act of suicide was conducted! More importantly only 6.1% of the time, a helpline or way to find help was reported in the same 246 articles.

 


Religion is a protective factor in suicide however the last I checked, people of faith were not immune to mental health problems.


Certain parties like to think that people who commit suicide or are mentally ill are not religious enough. From your professional opinion, does religion help avoid mental illnesses or suicidal intentions?

Religion is a protective factor in suicide however the last I checked, people of faith were not immune to mental health problems.

I was reading about Van Gogh the painter. Did you know that before he became a famous painter he was studying to become a priest? He was apparently devout, yet he too had a mental health problem. In my own practice, I have religious leaders in my care. Yes, religion helps them to cope, but they are also on medication to help treat their mental health problem. In fact, it’s part of their way of practice whereby they help themselves by ensuring they receive adequate treatment to practice their faith correctly.

People who dish out such advise freely usually do not understand about mental illness and in fact can be outright ignorant. My experience has shown me that when these individuals have a person in their own family with a mental health issue and praying does not help, they often end up in my centre and it’s usually not in the best state (usually due to delay). I definitely do not wish anyone a mental health/mental illness but it’s seen time and time again.

Also read: Suicide gun displayed and mental illness explored at the Van Gogh Museum

Family/friends of people who have attempted suicide may go to two extremes in handling the individual: treating them with kid gloves or entirely ignoring the matter and considering it a shameful thing. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I’m a firm believer that people with mental illness once treated can lead a full life. Even those with schizophrenia, a medical condition I consider worse then cancer. Yes, some will have a long struggle but most do well once detected early and treated early.

At the very beginning it’s good to be slightly more concerned. It’s also natural to be overly protective especially when you are not familiar with the problem. However, as the patient is moving to recovery, which should be the aim for ALL patients, the usual autonomy need to be provided. We do need to ensure that there are processes in place should the family member need extra help in their recovery.

Follow Dr. Amer Siddiq on mentalhealth.my where he shares his thoughts on mental health in Malaysia.

 

Photography: Shaffiq Farhan

Creative Direction: Syahlia Sari

Venue: University Of Malaya Art Gallery

 

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