WHEN K-Pop star Kim Jong-hyun committed suicide last month, help group Befrienders Kuala Lumpur received 800 emails, mostly from young people.
The surge showed that the SHINee lead singer’s death affected many.
Befrienders KL administrator Kenny Lim said many were curious why someone who was successful, talented, young, rich and handsome had committed suicide.
Kim was adored by many, and his death affected the people who called the group, Lim said.
“Although it is good that people are reaching out for help, it is sad that they only did so when someone popular took his own life.”
He said Befrienders provided emotional support to people who were distressed, depressed and had suicidal thoughts, or anyone who needed someone to talk to.
“There are three ways for the public to contact Befrienders — via our 24-hour hotline, email and face to face.
“Contacting us via email is really catching on, especially among younger people.”
He said last year, Befrienders received 26,927 calls, an increase from 24,821 in 2016 and 21,256 in 2015, adding that two thirds of callers were women.
“They spoke about relationships, mental health, family, job, social difficulties, physical illness, sexual issues and others.”
Befrienders also took people in need to community programmes, especially high-risk groups.
The programmes provided onsite emotional support, talks, workshops and seminars on listening skills, stress management, suicide prevention, capacity building and mental health awareness.
He said many psychiatrists gave their patients Befrienders’ contact number.
“Although we are not a professional group, we complement treatments the patients are undergoing.”
He said Befrienders planned to provide support to families and friends of suicide victims.
“If someone you are close to succumbs to illnesses, it is something that you are prepared for, but when it comes to suicide, which happens suddenly, the effect on the people left behind can be devastating.”
He said the group was also looking into using social media to reach out to people, but it needed to prepare itself by getting the right technology.
NATIONAL CANCER SOCIETY MALAYSIA (NCSM)
The society was established in 1966 to provide education, care and support services for people affected by cancer.
Its Resource Wellness Centre head and peer cousellor, Adeline Joseph, a cancer survivor, said it was not common in Malaysia for cancer patients to seek help from a support group.
“That is one of the challenges, as not many people are aware of the support services at NCSM.”
She said the problem was compounded by the fact that some doctors do not tell patients the importance of seeking emotional, psychosocial or physiological support.
She said a support group like the society could be useful in the healing process for cancer survivors, adding that campaigns to promote this had been carried out.
“For example, for a lady who had her breast removed, she needs to know how she is going to be in public after that.
“Where do I go? What do I do? How do I cover my scar? And so on. Those are things that members in the support group can help with.”
She said at NCSM, patients could get support from its Resource and Wellness Centre, Children’s Home of Hope Cancer Information Service, as well as two support groups, namely Victory, a support group for men, and Pink Unity, a support group for women.
“We also provide support through the phone, email and a mobile app called Stronger Than Cancer.”
She said support groups were crucial for cancer patients to fight the disease and for survivors to return to a normal life.
“Sometimes, patients are worried about burdening their family members or caregivers. By joining a support group, it will give them an avenue to share with other people with the same problems.”
MENTAL ILLNESS AWARENESS AND SUPPORT ASSOCIATION (MIASA)
Support groups are crucial for people with mental health issues in their journey to battle their illness, sometimes alone and in silence, said Miasa president Anita Abu Bakar.
The stigma of mental illness was a major struggle for many, she said, adding that groups like Miasa reached out to patients and educated the public to be more understanding.
Anita, who was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, said she only had support from her family when she struggled with her illness.
“I did not know where to seek help. I was in the dark.
“As I was recovering, my husband suggested that we educate the public on mental illness. But, to do that, I had to meet people and reveal my illness.
“I then realised that there are a lot of people who are suffering, but because of stigma and taboo, they don’t get help.”
She said Miasa’s goal was to change the public’s perception of people with mental illness.
“The stigma is that many believe people with mental illness are crazy, unstable, dangerous or do not have faith, among others.”
She said people with mental illness needed to know that there were people who cared about them, which would give them the courage to reach out to the rest of society for help.
“When people with mental illness feel they are accepted by society, they can get on with life.”
Solidarity in support groups
HER life crumbled eight years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Saidathul Nizah Mat Tazin’s fear of death haunted her and she no longer had the will to live.
Then she found out about the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM).
“I was broken. I felt very weak. I did not know what to do. I felt that life was really unfair.
“But, I convinced myself that there would always be a solution to a problem and I need to have faith in God.
“Although it was hard to look forward to living, I believe God was testing me as things always happen for a reason.”
She said seeking help from the society helped her a lot during her recovery journey from cancer to overcome her fears.
“Although your family is there for you, you will feel the need to talk to people who are going through the same thing as you because they will understand you better.
“With support groups, patients can not only open up about things that are bothering them, it can also help them heal by having someone listen to their concerns.
“Survivors can also share the problems they face and how to handle some issues, based on what they went through.”
She said support groups helped patients cope by providing emotional support, and patients gain strength by knowing that others are going through the same challenges.
She said patients could consult experts for advice or seek alternative treatments.
“Patients must take the initiative to see doctors and seek advice.
“It is important for them to be prepared mentally and physically when they go for treatment.”
She said patients could also use supplements to help them heal and return to normal life.
Cindy W. Law was at a loss when she found out her then 6-year-old son was autistic.
She turned to a support group, the National Autism Society of Malaysia, to help her face the challenges of raising an autistic child.
She said the support group helped her faced her problems as it brought together people who were facing similar issues to share experiences and advice.
“As a mother of an autistic child, support groups can be very helpful by just getting to talk to other people who are in the same situation.
“Not everyone finds the support offered by family and friends to be helpful. Instead, they turn to others outside their immediate circle to help them cope and feel less isolated.
“The advantage of a support group is that it helps people who are going through challenges realise that they are not alone, and it is a huge relief.
“It is heartbreaking for any mother to learn that their child has been diagnosed with an illness, and they will do anything in their power to help their children lead a normal life.
“Handling an autistic child is not easy task because they are sometimes aggressive, and people will feel awkward around them,” she said, adding that the society helped her to have a positive perspective on things.