Malaysian police investigate case of teen who committed suicide after Instagram poll

The girl, who was from Batu Kawah, in eastern Sarawak state, leapt to her death from a building after asking her followers on Instagram earlier in the day if she should choose life or death. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities are investigating the case of a 16-year-old girl who is believed to have killed herself after putting up a poll on Instagram on whether she should die.

The incident has also highlighted the issue of mental health problems, particularly among the young, in the country.

"It is a very serious matter where social media is used in a manner that can endanger the lives of certain people. It could amount to an offence," Minister of Communications and Multimedia Gobind Singh Deo told reporters on Wednesday (May 15).

The government may also look at changing the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 to address cyberbullying and online suicides, he said.

"Having said that, I think at the same time, we also want to look at how the CMA Act could perhaps be tweaked to deal with problems like this," he added.

The death of the teenager is currently under police investigation with the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission saying that it is a criminal offence to encourage or assist in the suicide of a minor.

The girl, who was from Batu Kawah, in eastern Sarawak state, leapt to her death from a building on Tuesday after asking her followers on Instagram earlier in the day if she should choose life or death.

She uploaded a post with the heading "Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L" on Instagram Stories. D and L were said to have stood for the words "die" and "live".

A total of 69 per cent of those polled chose "D".

The teen was said to have been emotionally upset after her stepfather, with whom she had a close relationship, married another woman.

Padawan district police chief Aidil Bolhassan said the girl had also uploaded a Facebook status saying: "Wanna quit f*****g life i'm tired."

Superintendent Aidil said the teenager was close to her stepfather but was affected after he rarely returned to her home following his new marriage.

The incident showed the lack of awareness of mental health issues in the country, said Malaysian Psychiatric Association patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

"The government must train more counsellors and psychologists to help those suffering from depression and other mental problems," he said.

He said there was a need for a holistic public health approach to address the factors contributing to poor mental health, adding that the Health, Education and Youth and Sports Ministries must collaborate on this.

"The relevant agencies must also develop an alert system to enable people to notify concerned parties of suicidal postings on social media," he said.

More and more cases of Malaysian children and youths with mental health problems, which may stem from increased pressure in school and fears about the future, have emerged. This has also appeared to coincide with the rise in cyberbullying, in tandem with the prevalent use of social media. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks are increasingly being reported among students in schools.

A Ministry of Health survey in 2017 found depression, anxiety and stress were prevalent among 18.3 per cent, 39.7 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively in school-going adolescents aged 13-17 years old. The same survey also showed prevalence of suicidal thoughts was 10.0 per cent, an increase from 7.9 per cent in 2012.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad has outlined several possible risk factors for the young, including stressful life events, harsh parenting styles, family conflicts, poor psychosocial support, poor socio-economic background and high risk behaviour such as substance abuse. .

The chances of treatment are also poor in Malaysia because of a severe shortage of psychiatrists. The Health Ministry reports that there are currently 309 psychiatrists nationwide. Only 30 are child and adolescent specialists.

While the ratio of psychiatrists recommended by the World Health Organisation is 1:10,000, in Malaysia the ratio is 1:200,000.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said: "I am genuinely worried about the state of our youth's mental health. It's a national issue which must be taken seriously."

He said he would start an open dialogue as part of efforts to address the issue.

Six out of ten Malaysian youths have mental health issues, he said, and a majority of suicide victims are young.

He also lamented that most Malaysians brushed off mental health issues as "fake."

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