Suicide and the fatal loop of depression

PETALING JAYA: Those who attempt to commit suicide and fail are very likely to try it again, especially if the factors that drove them to such an act are not identified and dealt with professionally.

In addition to facing the stigma of having attempted it, being labelled as 'mad' or a 'psychiatric case' by society doesn't help either.

Malaysia is one of the few countries where suicide is a criminal act, and this often worsens the mental state of the individual.

Psychiatrist Dr Andrew Mohanraj said the scorn and labelling itself is enough to push any victim to attempt suicide again.

In commenting on the legal repercussions, he said Section 309 of the Penal Code states that a person who attempts suicide faces a one-year jail sentence, a fine, or both.

"However, this section has rarely been evoked, despite many having survived suicide attempts.

He added that besides Malaysia, only a handful of countries criminalises suicide, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore and India.

Dr Andrew is of the opinion that suicide attempts need to be decriminalised, as he believes it to be a cry for help from the individual.

"The underlying cause can be many things – he could have been suffering from depression, having a psychotic episode, or even lost all hope in life and made a spontaneous decision to end it all.

"To detain him immediately is to deny him appropriate treatment, diminishing any hope for recovery. When it comes to charging victims who have attempted suicide, justice needs to be tempered with mercy.

He said the "moving on" process for a victim is highly dependent on their surroundings and the people around them – if the depression persists and feelings of hopelessness and self-isolation are prevalent, then close ones must be watchful for a repeat attempt.

Dr Andrew explained that treatment for a victim first involves hospitalisation and assessment by a mental health expert.

"Upon making a complete psychiatric assessment and determining the diagnosis, for example depression or psychosis, it is then necessary to ascertain the underlying stressor.

"Some examples include relationship and financial issues, pressure from the family, or failing in exams or at the work place. Once the stressor is identified, crisis intervention is then initiated in order to remove it," he said.

Dr Andrew said depressed or suicidal individuals sometimes just need someone non-judgmental to talk to, which is the reason why they are always asked to seek professional help.

Law expert Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said lawmakers should look into the matter into again as it did not make sense to criminalise suicide.

"It is not the fault of the police as they are merely carrying out the law. Therefore, it is up to our lawmakers to assess this and decide whether that cry for help should be answered or criminalised.

"A victim who has survived should be put under some treatment and counselling, and the cause of their act investigated and remedied," he said.

He explained that the situation could not be compared to mentally-unstable people who committed crimes without intent, as severe depression is often the trigger in suicide cases.

"In such cases, they need help and not a jail sentence as that is not going to make the situation any better," said Prof Dr Shad.

A survey by The Star Online showed that countries such as Australia and United States immediately sends victims for psychological treatment.

Australian Rashlyn Augustine, 24, said that suicide and mental health issues were taken extremely seriously in Australia, and victims are given medical attention as soon as possible.

Shyam Sundar, 27, from the United States, said that although the police may look into the history of the individual, at no time would they be arrested or treated like a criminal, as it was not a crime there.

Sakhreeta Seth, 32, a psychologist in Gujarat, India, said that although suicide was criminalised in countries such as India and Malaysia, authorities tend to refer victims to a psychologist.

A police source said that in Malaysia, the accused would not be sent for psychiatric treatment unless they had been charged and detained.

"They are usually sent to the psychologist for evaluation to see if they are able to be charged.

"If they are released upon investigation, then it is up to them if they need to seek help," said the source.

He added that in his years of experience, he had only seen one person charged under section 309 of the Penal Code.

"The one individual that I know of, following his psychiatric evaluation, was not subject to a year-long imprisonment. Instead, he was fined and then sent to a public hospital for counselling," he said.

Related story:
'I survived suicide, but my own mother reported me to the police'

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