4th November 2020
The current Perikatan Nasional (PN) government must show more urgency in repealing Section 309 of the Penal Code to “decriminalise attempted suicide” to properly deal with this issue. This is especially with increasing cases due to anxiety and stress induced by the current Covid-19 pandemic which will exacerbate certain tendencies, especially those that may have pre-existing mental health conditions.
I recently received a Parliamentary answer saying that the government is still studying the matter and is at the stage of consulting the relevant stakeholders. Fact of the matter is, this was the exact answer that I received in the last Parliamentary session and yet since then, little is seen to be done despite the urgency of the matter.
Under the previous Pakatan Harapan government, the then Law Minister Datuk VK Liew was invested in making sure this reform happened and even said that the necessary reforms would have been ready for a June tabling in 2020. However, since the change of government, there seems to be little urgency in implementing this needed reform even with Covid-19 in the background.
Since the start of the pandemic and the implementation of restrictive interventions such as the MCO, experts including mental health associations, centres, and even clinics have reported a significant increase in mental health cases among the people. Many are finding it hard to cope with isolation and economic hardship.
According to the police, there were 78 suicides nationwide from March 18 when the shutdown began, until June 9. There were 64 suicides in the same period last year.
In April, Malaysian think tank The Centre said a study it conducted found that some 45% of 1,084 Malaysian respondents experienced varying levels of anxiety and depression during the MCO.
A total of 34% of 4,142 calls received by the Befrienders between March 18 and May 16 were related to the Covid-19 outbreak. Over a third of the calls about Covid-19 were suicidal in nature.
The Health Ministry also reported that it received some 2,500 phone calls and more than 1,000 WhatsApp messages between March 28 and April 12, during the early days of the MCO on its Psychological First Aid hotline.
So we have seen clear trends of an increase in either suicides, possible attempts, and even ideation due to what experts have termed the “silent mental health pandemic” due to Covid-19.
This is why the government must be proactive and show more urgency in dealing with this issue holistically. They should not be treated as an “accused”, but rather as patients who need all the required therapy and support.
There is no evidence to show that decriminalising attempted suicide will lead to more cases or even act as a deterrent from such cases. Instead, it may actually cause other adverse effects including further marginalizing them from getting access to much needed help from mental health services.
Source: The Rakyat Post
According to the World Health Organisation, at least 59 countries have decriminalised suicide. Attempted suicide is decriminalised in North America, all of Europe, most of South America, and some parts of Asia. Even United Kingdom, of which the British Common Law forms the basis of our Penal Code, decriminalised suicide in 1961. India, which shares a similar penal code to Malaysia, recently decriminalised suicide in 2014. In the UK, since the decriminalisation, we have even seen a decrease in numbers.
However, it is also important to note that decriminalisation should not be the sole step to address this growing issue. There also has to be greater investment in the Malaysian Suicide Prevention and Strategic Action Plan, and reform for the Malaysian Suicide Registry. On top of that, an extension of insurance coverage for mental health will also go a long way to help destigmatise and properly address this growing issue.
Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP for Bandar Kuching