Young people of today are more comfortable expressing their emotions online because it enables them to hide behind a virtual mask. REUTERS
Dr Ong Beng Keat

KUALA LUMPUR: YOUTH SUICIDE is a complicated issue as it involves the dynamic play of environmental, biological and psychological factors.

“Environmental stress can precipitate depression in biologically and psychologically vulnerable individuals,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Ong Beng Keat.

“The stress may be the result of a dysfunctional family, academic pressure, peer pressure, societal discrimination, work related pressure, relationship issues and other factors. Drugs and alcohol can also predispose and precipitate depression among youth, leading to suicide in some cases.”

Dr Ong, who is based in George Town, Penang, says cyberbullying on social media, which is a form of discrimination, appears to be linked to suicide.

“While we cannot deny the seriousness of this increasing trend, prospective data collection will definitely be useful in ascertaining such association. “We must not condone bullying and must come down hard on offenders. There are no two ways about it.

“Legislation and enforcement, with cooperation of teachers, parents and society as a whole, are ways to curb the problem.

“Identify victims and offenders. The latter must be dealt with swiftly, while the former can seek counselling from teachers and mental health professionals to correct skewed perceptions of themselves and improve their self-confidence.”

Dr Ong says suicide alerts on social media are cries for help that warrant intervention by professional mental health workers.

“Even if these individuals are seeking attention via social media, they deserve to be helped to unravel any underlying poor coping skills, adjustment issues and possible mental health disorders like personality or depressive disorders,” he adds.

“Today, social media is a platform for youth to ask for help. Therefore, we can also reach out to them via a similar platform by educating them on how to get help.”

School guidance counsellor and psychologist Karen Yong said nowadays troubled youth tended to seek the attention of friends and family through Facebook and Twitter.

“It’s scary to realise that the number of youth suicides has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years because of social media. It’s not just a local problem as we’ve heard of so many cases in Western countries as well.

“Unfortunately, many of their acquaintances assume it’s just an attempt to seek attention. Instead of talking it out, they make fun of them. This just makes a bad situation worse. The troubled youth then feels, neglected, rejected and alone.”

Yong advises parents to take a more active role by becoming “friends” with their kids on Facebook.

“Parents should be on Facebook to allow them to better relate to their children. They will be surprised at some of the emotions and daily trials their children are going through.

“Young people of today are more comfortable expressing their emotions online because it enables them to hide behind a virtual mask. To them it is easier, more convenient and less embarrassing.”

She says fewer students are knocking on her door for help these days.

“In the past, there was nowhere else to turn to. Students would approach teachers or parents. But now they have online avenues, which unfortunately are not the best option for troubled teens. The advice they get could be emotionally crippling and even fatal.”

She says the problem is compounded by the fact that youngsters can learn new methods to commit suicide on online websites and forums that promote suicide as a way to escape reality.

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