Rising rate of self harm among the young

More than 100 counsellors and therapists from Malaysia and Singapore attended the National Symposium of the Catholic Counsellors and Therapists Malaysia at Loyola Hall, St Francis Xavier Church Oct 26.

Nov 29, 2019

By Lavinia Louis
More than 100 counsellors and therapists from Malaysia and Singapore attended the National Symposium of the Catholic Counsellors and Therapists Malaysia at Loyola Hall, St Francis Xavier Church Oct 26.

This year’s theme was Choose Life – Preventing self harm and suicide. In his speech, chairman Dr Xavier Pereira said that the theme coincidentally happened to be the same as the Mental Health Awareness week this year.

“When the team and I brainstormed on the theme at the beginning of the year, we had no idea that this year’s mental health awareness week theme would be the same as our theme today. We are so glad to have certified WHO therapists and other counsellors who will be speaking on this theme today,” he said.

“With the rates of self-harm and suicides increasing globally, we see many who have harmed themselves in our work, counselling and therapeutic practice. What is of great concern is that many are young. This symposium is an attempt to address the prevention of self-harm and suicide and, hopefully, it will motivate and equip us to help vulnerable individuals to choose life instead of death,” continued Dr Pereira.

In the opening address, Psychiatrist and Associate Professor of the National University of Malaysia, Dr Chan Lai Fong, shared that selfharm is a very broad spectrum.

“Self-harm is the term used to describe when someone intentionally harms oneself through self-injury through many various methods and forms. Self-harm does not require any specific level of suicidal intent. It includes an act or acts across the whole section of suicidal intent, they have no or zero wish to die. However there may be instances where when they self-harm, they intend to die,” she said.

Dr Chan continued with the many reasons why a person self harms. “It may be something to demonstrate stress to others, or could be to avoid a situation temporarily, to punish oneself or to try to reduce the tension they are experiencing,” she said.

“Now we are here not to condone self-harm but to learn how to empathise and approach this situation to curb self-harm and suicide,” she continued.

Chairman of the Befrienders, Justin Victor, said that last year alone the Befrienders received 30,000 contacts via emails and calls. “Since the beginning of this year when the government requested telcos to offer toll-free calls to the Befrienders, we have seen a 20 per cent spike, of which 37 per cent are having suicidal thoughts while the rest are just troubled by surrounding factors,” he said.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Christine Maryana Gabriel shared that the common factor between suicide and self-harm  is that every individual is seeking help for connection.

“Generally, what we are all looking for is to connect; as family therapists we are constantly looking at the relational aspect, anything and everything. A lot of people think that as a marriage and family therapist, I only see couples and families, but that’s not true because even for individuals, I am bringing in family, not necessary physically, but by asking questions,” she said.

“Sometimes no matter what we do, that person still wants to do things that inflict pain. Then you start feeling helpless, frustrated and angry and you start minimising the pain by saying things you are not supposed to. But what we don’t realise is that nobody wants to be in that state, they have no choice but to be in it and they are stuck. All they want is that connection,” she added.

The day carried on with forums and discussions on various case studies and experiences.

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