Wed, Sep 13, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Stigma impedes suicide prevention

People always seem to be shocked when a suicide makes headlines, pointing fingers and turning the death into a media and Internet circus.

Each case is a tragedy with its own causes, but it is clear that the stigma surrounding suicide leads to an over-sensationalization of these cases, causing additional grief to surviving family members and friends.

After a Taipei First Girls’ High School student died after jumping off a building last week, accusations were immediately raised that her parents had pressured her to attend the nation’s top high school for girls against her wishes.

Yet this is a widespread problem in Taiwan, where a large majority of educated parents employ high-pressure child-rearing methods. It is not just the case of one family that led to this tragedy.

This was also not the first time a teenager has committed suicide because of the pressures of school, in this nation or any other.

In today’s Taiwan, when almost everyone who wants to — and has the means to — go to college is guaranteed to get into a school, and in a job market where a degree from a prestigious school is no longer seen as a guarantee of success, there is still enormous pressure to succeed academically, and this pressure is not going to disappear no matter how many fingers are pointed.

Blaming one family for one incident will not bring about change in society. The media frenzy will soon subside — until the next time.

The real problem is that the longstanding stigmatization of mental health problems continues to deter parents from seeking help for their children. We live in a society that still largely prioritizes success — academic, career, familial and monetary — over general well-being.

Parents can push and encourage their children to succeed, but they can also be on the lookout for any signs of distress, and make sure that their child is happy at the same time.

Experts say that 50 to 70 percent of suicide attempts could have been detected. It is one thing to prioritize academic success over happiness, but it is inexcusable to ignore mental health warnings because of societal stigmas.

The extent of this stigmatization is evident in the Taiwanese response to a Stanford University School of Medicine study that found that people with sleeping disorders were more prone to suicidal thoughts.

John Tung Foundation mental health section chief Yeh Ya-hsin (葉雅馨) said the study “could be used for suicide prevention because sleeping disorders can be observed and are not stigmatized like mental health issues.”

That is a passive approach, but we have to start somewhere. Since about 30 percent of people in Taiwan suffer from sleeping disorders, people are presumably familiar with the symptoms and can easily determine if another person is suffering from such a disorder. Those who are averse to talking about mental health should at least have no problem asking their children if they slept well.

Sometimes this type of simple act of caring can go a long way toward preventing a suicide.

The bottom line is that mental health issues and suicidal impulses go hand in hand — and they are more common than most people realize.

It seems like every month there is a new study on the subject. A survey released last week found that 6.5 percent of Taiwanese suffer from emotional issues, with 41.3 percent of them admitting to having once considered suicide.

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