Decriminalising suicide bids now in Cabinet’s hands

PUTRAJAYA: With the country recording an 81% increase in suicide cases last year, efforts to decriminalise suicide attempts are hanging in the balance pending a Cabinet decision.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said whether amendments to the law to decriminalise suicide attempts could be done in the Parliament meeting next month would depend on the Cabinet’s decision.

It would also hinge on whether the Home Ministry could be influenced to support the efforts, he added.

“When I brought the memorandum, the Home Ministry did not seem to agree very much so we will see whether they can be influenced to support efforts to decriminalise suicide attempts,” Khairy told reporters after a fund distribution programme for mental health non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at the Health Ministry here yesterday.

The Health Ministry had earlier submitted to the Cabinet a memorandum for a moratorium on the prosecution and conviction involving attempted suicides.

The memorandum is part of an effort to decriminalise suicide attempts and to defer or repeal sentencing of the offence under Section 309 of the Penal Code until amendments to the law are made.

Under Section 309 of the Penal Code, whoever attempts to commit suicide can be jailed up to one year, fined or both.

However, the Cabinet was of the view that the matter would have to be finalised at the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) level before the government made a decision, said Khairy.

He said the Health Ministry had already received a report on the study done by the AGC and its results would soon be discussed in an engagement session with stakeholders including the Home Ministry and the police.

“In this session we will also review the Cabinet memorandum that has been prepared to be brought to the Cabinet meeting.

“We also need the views of the police and the Home Ministry,” he said.

Earlier in his speech, Khairy said police statistics showed an increase of 81% or 1,142 more suicide cases last year, compared to 631 cases in 2020.

He said the worrying figures showed a need for immediate action and attention as the Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated mental health issues.

This was also seen in the data analysis on the ministry’s psychosocial helpline from March 2020 till now, he added.

Out of 307,673 calls received, 227,713 or 74% of callers needed emotional support and counselling due to chronic stress, depression and anxiety throughout the pandemic.

“Contributing factors included financial issues such as loss of income or employment, family problems such as divorce, loss of loved ones, family conflict as well as domestic abuse,” said Khairy.

At the event yesterday, he also distributed RM6.2mil to 52 mental health NGOs to strengthen their work in providing mental health support and psychosocial services to the community.

Mental health, Khairy said, had been a pervasive long-standing public health issue in Malaysia, with the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 finding the prevalence of depression among 18-year-olds and above to be 2.3%, which is estimated to be almost 500,000 people.

He said NGOs had been steadfast partners of the ministry since as early as the 1970s and the 1980s in providing mental health services, especially from the aspect of health promotion and mental health advocacy as well as psychosocial support services.

“The responsibility of dealing with mental problems must be jointly borne.

“Therefore, I am confident that the distribution of the funds to these NGOs will be able to help the effort in implementing mental health activities effectively,” he added.

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