Are Malaysian Women at Increased Risk of Suicide?

As Malaysia grapples with a growing number of Covid-19 cases, the underlying toll of the pandemic has hit communities hard as people grapple with job insecurity, loneliness and problems mental health. The impact of the pandemic on women appears to be particularly damaging, as suggested by rising suicide rates among women.

Between January and May of this year alone, 468 suicide cases were reported to police, an average of three cases per day. This five-month tally is an increase from 631 cases for all of 2020 and 609 cases throughout 2019, strongly indicating that the pandemic is likely playing a role in the increase in the number of cases, as economic tensions, stress and isolation are amplified over successive periods. blockages.

Police statistics from 2019 to May 2021 show that suicide rates are now five times higher for women than for men. Of more than 1,700 cases, 1,427 involved women and 281 men. Young people are particularly vulnerable, with more than half of recorded suicides involving adolescents aged 15 to 18 in 872 people, followed by 668 people aged 19 to 40.

According to police, the top three contributing factors to suicide for both men and women were family problems, emotional pressure, and financial strain.

Sunday Star approached police for a detailed breakdown of suicide cases to better understand the situation and demographics at risk. Although the data available is limited, the above patterns suggest that women are at higher risk for suicide in Malaysia – but why is this, and has it always been so?

Evaluating numbers

According to the Department of Health’s National Suicide Registry (NSRM), which operated from 2007 to 2009, the gender distribution of suicides historically shows a male preponderance. This is corroborated by World Health Organization data on Malaysia over the past two decades, showing that more men have died by suicide than women. This is also consistent with global statistics.

But recently, the situation seems to have changed in Malaysia. Not only has the overall suicide rate increased, but more women have committed suicide.

The fact that situations involving suicide are highly stigmatized in our society may mean that the numbers are underreported and that published data may not accurately reflect the situation on the ground. reported ”opposite.)

Nonetheless, the growing number of women who die by suicide deserves closer examination as it indicates that women are a group heavily affected by the pandemic.

Contributing factors

Malaysia is not the only country to see this pattern of behavior since the Covid-19 epidemic last year. In 2020, the overall suicide rate in Japan increased. The rates among Japanese women in particular rose almost 15%, while the rates among men edged down. South Korea has also seen an equally marked increase in suicide deaths among women, especially young women.

At present, there is no data from Malaysian research shedding light on the factors influencing the evolution of the gender difference in suicide, but Dr Anita Codati says we could perhaps be getting insight into trends in Japan and South Korea, as some of the same factors may apply.

“It could be that women are more affected by psychological distance and, as a result, may develop more feelings of loneliness and isolation and experience poor sleep and low motivation.

“Many women may have found themselves unemployed because of the pandemic and suffered a loss of income to support their families,” said the psychiatrist in the mental health department of a local hospital.

Across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic will send 47 million additional women and girls below the poverty line, according to the UN Women agency. According to the 2018 Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) study, The Malaysian Workforce: A Changing Landscape, nearly 30% of employed women in Malaysia are sales and service providers. And that industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic right now, experiencing the highest layoff rates and pay cuts according to other labor reports.

The International Labor Organization has found that among workers in the informal economy in Malaysia who are significantly affected by the crisis, women are overrepresented in high-risk sectors – wholesale and retail, manufacturing, accommodation and services. catering.

Additionally, an inequitable distribution of care and household chores among women can also contribute to feelings of depression and increased anxiety.

According to KRI’s Time To Care 2019 survey: Gender Inequality, Unpaid Care Work and Time Use, Malaysian women are taking on more unpaid care responsibilities despite working almost the same number of hours as men in the workplace. paid work, resulting in a “double burden”.

Numerous global studies also highlight how domestic work and childcare increased dramatically during the pandemic, and it is mainly women who end up bearing these additional burdens, often due to asymmetric social structures and gender roles.

“Lack of human connection is a threat to everyone’s mental health, but women are often expected to shoulder the burden of greater job insecurity compared to men. And there are also the disparities in the division of labor in caring for school-aged children at home and managing households during the age of homework, ”says Dr Anita.

She adds that women are also at a higher risk of experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault, crimes the number of cases of which has increased since the implementation of the first movement control order in March last year.

“These factors can make them more vulnerable to mental health problems, which can contribute to a higher risk of suicide,” says Dr. Anita.

A 2017 study from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Gender differences and psychological factors associated with suicidal ideation among young people in Malaysia, found that depression and loss of motivation as components of hopelessness were predictors of suicidal ideation in young people. the women. Although women in general have more thoughts of suicide, around the world more men are dying by suicide – a situation called the gender paradox.

A significant difference in why women were less likely to commit suicide before the pandemic was that women’s problem-solving strategies favored consulting their peers for help and that they were more willing to accept. of help than men, who place a higher value on independence. Thus, the prolonged lack of interaction and isolation of support networks during this pandemic may have had a negative effect on women’s coping mechanisms, not allowing them to communicate as easily as they previously could.

To maintain positive mental well-being, everyone is advised to stay in touch with friends and family and to reach out to loved ones who may feel especially lonely during these difficult times.

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