A STAGGERING 468 suicide cases were reported across the country in the first five months of 2021 alone, compared with 631 cases in the whole of last year.
Suicide was highlighted as a national crisis when the White Flag (Bendera Putih) Movement was initiated by ordinary Malaysians to help those in desperate need of food, resources and essentials, many of whom are under mental distress.
This statement calls for the decriminalisation of suicide to put an end to the stigmatisation of mental health in Malaysia.
Section 309 of the Malaysian Penal Code states that “Whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offense; shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”
In 2020, a magistrates court in Terengganu sentenced a disabled man, who attempted suicide, to six months in prison.
Recognising that dire circumstances of financial difficulties and mental distress have led to increased suicide cases during lockdown, we call for the punishment to be replaced with mental health rehabilitation.
We condemn issuing fines and jail-time as appropriate responses to those suffering from severe mental health problems, especially attempted suicide.
We call on all members of Parliament and senators regardless of political affiliation to be more vocal and push for greater political will to decriminalise suicide as people with mental health issues are not criminals.
We call on the Government to:
1. Adopt rehabilitative solutions under the Ministry of Health as a means of strengthening support mechanisms for Malaysians and non-Malaysians;
2. Allow counselling centres to operate with strict standard operating procedure (SOP) during the lockdown;
3. Discuss and vote on the decriminalisation of suicide when Parliament reconvenes;
4. Introduce a moratorium as a short term solution that avoids fining and jailing Malaysians and non-Malaysians who have attempted suicide;
5. Optimise the role of special select committee to address mental health problems;
6. Pardon and review cases for those who have been prosecuted and convicted under provision S.309 of the Penal Code;
7. Revive the National Suicide Registry of Malaysia to drive effective policymaking and long-term solutions to address the rising cases of suicide.
If suicide continues to be criminalised under Section 309, those who suffer from mental health problems will be afraid to seek help.
The stigma and criminality which frame suicide have led family, friends and the general society to ignore the desperate calls for help.
Instead, mental health in Malaysia needs to be approached with compassion, data-driven solutions, and ethical policymaking.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Decriminalise and destigmatise suicide now.
- Article contributed by Youth in Politics (YPOLITICS), a multi-partisan movement that aims to generate more politically aware Malaysian youth.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.