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Suicide Estimated As Second Leading Cause Of Death For Adolescents In Malaysia

A report by UNICEF and MOH notes there is a dearth of direct information about suicide mortality among adolescents and children in Malaysia.

Photo by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 – Suicide is estimated to be the second leading cause of death for adolescents in Malaysia, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH). 

However, specific information about suicide mortality among adolescents and children is scant, notes the “Malaysia Country Report and Infographic 2022: Strengthening Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Systems and Services for Children and Adolescents in the East Asia and Pacific Region”, which was launched on August 29.

The National Suicide Registry Malaysia reported that in 2009, the suicide mortality rate was 1.03 per 100,000 population. While the figure is considered relatively low compared to other Asian countries, the report maintained that may have been due to under-reporting related to stigma and the legal implications of suicide under Malaysian law.

Section 309 of the Penal Code stipulates that whoever attempts to commit suicide shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with a fine, or both.

Caretaker Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin previously said that MOH had submitted a memorandum for a moratorium on the prosecution and conviction involving attempted suicides to the Cabinet. 

However, the government failed to table a bill to amend or repeal Section 309 in the last Dewan Rakyat meeting, before caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved Parliament last Monday.

Based on the national suicide registry, 53 young adults aged 15 to 24 were reported to have died by suicide, making them the most represented age group in suicide figures, at 16.2 per cent. No other age-specific data was provided.

Risk factors for suicide were male gender and Indian ethnicity. Most adolescents who died by suicide did not have a known past history of attempted suicide, physical and mental health problems or family history of suicide.

As the registry was discontinued in 2009, no recent data is available.

However, the report cites hospital figures as another source of data. In 2014, there were 83 admissions to hospital for intentional self-harm, at a rate of 0.3 per 100,000 of the population, which it also noted was probably an underestimate.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study 2019 in accounting for missing data (e.g., deaths not reported) or misclassification of cause of death, estimated that the mortality rate due to suicide for children aged 10 to 14 was 0.16 per 100,000 population, and for adolescents aged 15 to 19 it was 3.13 per 100,000 population.

Adolescent boys had around four times the mortality rate due to suicide compared with girls.

According to the Unicef and MOH report, the proportion of adolescents reporting suicidal ideation appears to be increasing based on two separate surveys: from 7.9 per cent in the 2012 Global Student Health Survey (GSHS) to 10.0 per cent in the 2017 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) Adolescent Health Survey. 

The report however notes that the two sources are not perfectly comparable.

Graphic from “Malaysia Country Report and Infographic 2022: Strengthening Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Systems and Services for Children and Adolescents in the East Asia and Pacific Region” by Unicef and MOH published on August 2022 

The 2017 NHMS Survey also found that 7.3 per cent of adolescents reported making suicide plans and 7.0 per cent reported a suicide attempt in the previous 12 months. This was higher than in comparable countries such as Indonesia and Brunei, but lower than in Thailand.

Girls were more likely to report suicidal ideation (10.8 per cent versus 9.1 per cent) and suicidal plans (7.8 per cent versus 6.8 per cent). Suicide attempts were similar between boys and girls at 7.0 per cent and 6.9 per cent, respectively.

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