Suicide Is A National Security Threat

Suicide Is A National Security Threat

The recent suicides on the Penang Bridge highlight again the urgency to address such unnecessary deaths that are always one too many. Suicide is a national security threat. With every suicide, there are emotional and financial costs within the family and affected community, reducing the overall productivity of people involved, over a significant amount of time.

We know from global research that the most common factors attributed to suicides are interpersonal relationship problems and financial crises. Other risk factors include occupational problems, substance abuse, chronic pain and physical illness, with mental illness being lower on the list than typically thought of.

Yes, the majority of people who attempt or commit suicide are not mentally ill. So, do not be quick to label suicidal persons as being mentally ill. This stigmatises suicidality further. The opposite of stigma and prejudice is curiosity. Let’s open our minds and hearts by seeking out reasons contributing to suicidal thoughts.

Suicide is preventable. We can all contribute to its prevention. We need not be mental health professionals. It can be prevented by reducing risk factors and vulnerabilities surrounding suicide, as well as increasing protective factors and resilience in the community.

What can be done to help communities prevent suicide? We can all do more to help people problem-solve, especially with regard to addressing the most common risk factors for suicide, such as relationship woes and financial issues, occupational problems and physical illness.

Often, occupational problems may be the root cause as it leads to other risk factors including significant financial loss, which eventually lead to problems in social relationships. This was hugely magnified during the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw an increased report of suicides.

We know from global research that if individuals have means of solving problems, or at least have access to help, they are less likely to choose the option of ending their own life. Problem-solving skills should be taught as early as possible to children so that they grow up to be resilient adults. Even adults can forget how to solve problems and so all of us would benefit from reminders and help – myself included!

Checking in on family and friends can help to ascertain if they need help – not necessarily emotional – but practical help. We can do a lot by listening and offering to find ways to solve their problems actively. As a community, there is also a serious need to identify sources for help so that we are prepared to refer individuals in need of further support such as mental health counselling where necessary.

Do we know where to go for help? Many people do not. Therein lies one of the problems. We need to have improved access to healthcare and welfare services that can provide help for suicidal situations. Community leaders and organisations can do a lot by developing opportunities for their members to seek help without prejudice, and also for other members to provide help.

Remember the #whiteflag / #benderaputih movement during the Movement Control Orders? Many people received relief from such community initiatives. Suicidal thoughts come from a position of desperation and helplessness. We can each reduce these feelings by providing avenues for help to those in need.

In need of what? Remember the risk factors for suicide? These problems that are interpersonal and financial in nature, as well as illnesses. These come with needs for acceptance, sustenance and comfort. What can we do to provide for such needs? Let’s ramp up the validation and acceptance; recognise the need for financial resources and comfort, and provide relief where we can.

Suicide is preventable. Let our daily actions contribute to suicide prevention by being kind, gentle compassionate and generous. Let’s offer help and empower others to ask for help. Let’s facilitate problem-solving as a caring society. We can save lives.


Professor Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon
School of Medical and Life Sciences

This article was first published in Business Today, 11 June 2022.