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  • Bridges M&C team

Befrienders KL: Grappling with Dwindling Funds Amid Rising Suicide Numbers

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Befrienders Kuala Lumpur is receiving more distress calls than ever due to conditions caused by the pandemic, but limited funding is curtailing the charity’s ability to respond to them.

Despite upbeat forecasts by Kenanga Investment Bank that Malaysia will see lower rates of unemployment this year compared to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the rates of suicide and suicidal behaviour continue to rise.

Calls for help

Between March and May of this year, Befrienders Kuala Lumpur received a total of 10,412 distress calls. This was a 52% increase from the same period in 2020, when the first Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented in Malaysia.

Mr Kenny Lim, Executive Director, Befrienders KL

"Between 30 to 40% of the callers who have reached out to us through our helpline in this period have expressed suicidal ideation or revealed they had attempted suicide in the past,” says Mr Kenny Lim, Executive Director, Befrienders KL.

“Many Malaysians are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress due to factors such as loss of income; isolation and loneliness due to travel restrictions; fear of being infected with Covid-19 and side effects of vaccines; and difficulties in coping with Work from Home (WFH) and/or online study arrangements.”

“Those with pre-existing mental disorders are finding it increasingly difficult to cope due to these additional pressures. There is also an increase in the occurrence of arguments or conflicts within the family as family members are forced to spend prolonged periods of time in an enclosed space with each other,” shares Lim.

Staying on mission during a pandemic

In alignment with its mission of reducing the risk of suicide in Malaysia through alleviating distress, Befrienders KL has been responding to calls from people who are in distress, depressed, or having suicidal thoughts through its 24-hour helpline. The helpline is run and managed by 125 trained volunteers, along with two paid administrative staff.

The charity also runs public programmes to increase awareness on mental health and suicide prevention.

*Medical students from a local university attended a listening skills workshop where they learned how to provide emotional support to the distressed and suicidal.

As a non-profit organisation, Befrienders KL relies heavily on public donations to function. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also caused fundraising events and activities to grind to a halt, greatly reducing the much-needed cash flow to fund its activities.

“We need about MYR200,000 a year to run our 24-hour helpline smoothly. We also need seven laptops, a printer and two phones for administration and to respond to distress calls. We need to computerise our admin system and upgrade our website. Our office building in Petaling Jaya is also in need of refurbishments and upgrades, to enable us to enhance the services that we offer to the public.”

*Mental health awareness programme conducted by Befrienders KL for Masters students at Universiti Utara Malaysia, KL Campus in March 2020, just before the first MCO.
“To reduce costs, and in compliance with MCO restrictions, we have begun conducting our awareness programmes online. Currently, despite the limited resources and increasing number of calls, we have been able to continue with our core service, the 24-hour helpline. However, we will be unable to continue to help our callers if public donations continue to dip,” explains Lim.

Seeking help to give help

To survive the pandemic, which is expected to dominate human lives for an indefinite period of time, we would need to build mental resilience. To do so, mental health must be made a top priority.

*Suicide prevention workshop by Befrienders KL for Archdiocesan Single Adults and Youth (ASAYO) in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan (Jan 2020).
“To survive the pandemic, we need to build our mental resilience as much we need to build physical immunity. To help our communities build mental resilience, we need to continue organising public programmes which educate members of the public on how they can deal with their own struggles, and what to do if they encounter someone who is struggling mentally or emotionally,” says Lim.

Bridges M&C is supporting Befrienders KL in its efforts to sustain and expand on its 24-hour helpline and public programmes educating the public on mental health and suicide prevention through our #BridgesGivesBack CSR campaign.

Support this cause by purchasing a copy of ‘Letter to my Mother’ via our website, which includes complimentary delivery to any address in West Malaysia. We also facilitate orders to East Malaysia and international addresses. Reach out to us via WhatsApp at (+60) 16-647 2644 for assistance.

*All photos are taken before the Covid-19 pandemic

About the organisation:

Befrienders KL is a non-profit organisation with the mission of alleviating distress and reducing the risk of suicide in Malaysia. To achieve this, trained volunteers offer free, confidential, and non-judgemental emotional support to anyone who calls their 24-hour telephone helpline (03-76272929) regardless of his/ her race, age, gender, or religion. In addition to organising talks and workshops to educate the public on mental health and suicide prevention, they also run 'Healing Connections', a programme whose objective is to provide emotional support to those who have lost a friend or family member to suicide.

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