BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s suicide rate has more than doubled in the past four years, said the Minister of Health on Wednesday, which has lead health authorities put greater focus on addressing mental health issues as a key component of public health.

According to statistics from the Royal Brunei Police, the rate of suicide increased from 1.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015 to 2.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2018, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said in a message released on World Mental Health Day,

“Although these statistics still show the suicide rate as low compared to other countries around the world, this doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about it. In fact, we need to take more effective preventive measures to address this problem before it becomes a serious and difficult issue,” he said.

Brunei has seen a worrying surge in suicides and attempted suicides — between 2016 and 2017 alone the number of suicides increased by 62 percent.

A total of six suicides were recorded in 2014; eight in 2015; eight in 2016; 13 in in 2017; and 11 from January to August of 2018.

During the same four year period, there were 43 attempted suicides.

The Ministry of Health launched the Hope Line 145 in February provide assistance and advice to those suffering from depression or emotional crisis, including suicide. The hotline, still in its pilot phase, received over 1,300 calls in its first six months.

Several public campaigns, such as “Mind Your Mind” and “Brunei Bebas Buli” were also launched to destigmatise mental illness and prevent bullying among school children.

“Suicide or attempted suicide is caused by complex issues that are not always easily understood,” said Dato Dr Hj Mohammad Isham. “In addition to depression and other mental health problems, suicide and suicidal behavior are also considered to be caused by a combination of social, psychological, biological, economic, environmental, behavioral and cultural factors.”

He said the increasing number of suicide cases could be curbed and prevented, especially if those with mental health problems get early treatment.

“As a caring community, we need to change our perceptions on mental health issues as well as those with mental health problems so that we can work together to prevent any suicide.

“As a society that wants inclusivity and does not discriminate, we need to be more open to dealing with mental health issues and address them through a culture-appropriate approach that helps and respects one another. We need to… encourage those with mental health problems to seek help, rather than feeling embarrassed, isolated or discouraged.”

The minister added that the mainstream media and social media platforms also play a role in preventing suicide, by disseminating accurate and useful information that may encourage people to seek mental health assistance.

“Major media outlets in Brunei Darussalam have shown positive developments in helping to address issues of mental health… I would like to remind and solicit the cooperation from the public, especially social media users in the country to play a part in promoting responsible behavior, including not posting or disseminating things that are not authentic, fake or sensitive, and always respect the privacy and dignity of others.”

The World Health Organization says that suicide is the second highest cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 29, putting young people at greater risk of violence, sexual abuse and bullying.

More than one suicide occurs every 40 seconds worldwide — roughly 800,000 deaths each year.

To find help and support for mental health issues, call the Hope Line at 145. The hotline is operational every day from 8am to 11pm.