Thursday, September 23, 2021

Keep a tab on social media use, mental health group warns amid hike in suicides

While social media can be useful for keeping in touch with loved ones during the pandemic, Malaysians are warned against 'pointlessly surfing'.

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A mental health support group recommends keeping a check on the amount of time spent on social media, especially for those under severe emotional pressure, to prevent continuous exposure to content which could exacerbate feelings of anxiety especially in the wake of recent statistics showing an upward trend in the number of suicides.

Anita Abu Bakar, president of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa), said scrolling through news feeds on social media could have a detrimental effect on mental health.

“Social media has been very helpful during this pandemic,” she told MalaysiaNow. “It’s also a simple way to stay connected with loved ones regardless of physical distance and can be an effective tool to maintain a strong and connected support system.

“However, try to steer away from and limit time spent on social media where you can view others’ comments and opinions, which can help limit the amount of negative input.”

She said time spent “pointlessly surfing” could also spark a downward spiral of overthinking which could affect daily thoughts and activities.

According to statistics recently revealed by the police, 609 suicides were reported in 2019 and 631 in 2020.

As of March this year, however, 336 cases had already been reported.

Criminal Investigation Department director Abd Jalil Hassan said 468 cases were recorded during the first five months of 2021.

“This means an average of two suicide cases happened every day from 2019 to May 2021,” he said.

Anita suggested using social media intentionally and “picking the right information to consume”. She said this would also lead to less time spent on such platforms.

“You will have more time to spend with family, or exercising or reading a book, or anything else that helps you practise mindfulness,” she said.

She gave the example of directly messaging friends or family to ask how they are doing instead of visiting their social media profiles, saying this would streamline the use of social media and prevent endless scrolling.

“We should intend to consume media that is true and verified and use social media to connect with peers and families,” she said.

She said her organisation had been seeing an increase in the number of people reaching out during the pandemic.

From August 2020 to May 2021, she said Miasa had received 8,250 calls, 16,500 WhatsApp messages, 7,887 private messages through social media platforms and 660 emails.

“This pandemic has put a strain on people’s mental health to an unprecedented degree,” she said, adding that the rise in suicide-related cases could be due to many factors.

She cited a study published in May examining the impact of the movement control order which listed the loneliness brought about by social isolation as well as intensified economic strain, especially among those in the B40 category, as potential risk factors.

“A lack of resources and support may also contribute to this. Social isolation means that many are separated from their support systems,” she said.

She also spoke of suicide copycats due to unsafe reporting by the media and footage of those who had either attempted suicide or taken their own lives.

However, she said this did not mean that technology should be altogether dismissed as social media can play an important role in keeping families and friends connected, and even food deliveries can be made through courier services.

She acknowledged that those who lack digital literacy would be less able to embrace this shift but said people should try to maintain contact with each other as much as possible.

“It can also help to find as many creative or virtual social outlets and hobbies as possible,” she said.

“Apply for a virtual class on any topic, or book clubs and exercise groups. Fill your time doing safe activities that prioritise your mental and physical well-being.”

The following hotlines are available for those in need of a listening ear:

Agape Counselling Centre Malaysia

Hotline: 03-7785 5955 / 7781 0800

The Befrienders

Hotline: 03-7956 8144 / 03-7956 8145

Life Line Association Malaysia

Hotline: 03-4265 7995

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