Amended laws to treat attempted suicide as health issue and not criminal act, Dewan Rakyat told

KUALA LUMPUR: The Mental Health Act will be amended to ensure that those who attempt suicide receive medical treatment within 24 hours of their rescue, says Ramkarpal Singh.

"The Act is closely linked to attempted suicide and must be amended based on conclusions following our engagement sessions," the Deputy Minister in the Prime's Minister Department (Law and Institutional Reforms) told the Dewan Rakyat on Wednesday (March 22).

"This is because the definition under the present law gives rise to problems with regards to rescue efforts of a person who attempts suicide.

"The amendments will allow enforcement personnel, such as firemen, police or others, to send the person concerned to hospital for treatment within 24 hours," he said in reply to a supplementary question by Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen (PH-Bandar Kuching).

Dr Yii had asked if amendments would be made to the Act in light of the government's proposal to decriminalise attempted suicide under Section 309 of the Penal Code.

Under the present law, a person who attempts suicide can face criminal prosecution which carries a one-year jail sentence, a fine or both upon conviction.

Earlier, Ramkarpal said the government agreed to treat attempted suicide as a public health issue rather than a criminal act.

He said this is in line with the classification of attempted suicide by the International Classification of Disease (ICD) and World Health Organisation (WHO).

"Studies have shown that individuals who suffer from depression are 20 times more likely to have suicidal tendencies that results in death by suicide," he said.

He informed the House that before the Covid-19 pandemic, a 2019 National Health and Morbidity Study showed that almost 500,000 Malaysians above 16 years of age suffered from depression.

He said that during the pandemic, issues related to mental health rose sharply based on calls to the Health Ministry's hotline for psychosocial assistance.

"From January to December 2021, a total of 212,319 calls were received which is almost a fivefold increase from 44,061 calls in 2020," he said.

Ramkarpal disagreed with Datuk Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh (PN-Besut) who suggested that there was no need to decriminalise attempted suicide by treating it as a public mental health issue.

Che Mohamad said Section 342 of the Penal Code already allows the authorities to send an individual for psychiatric evaluation to determine the state of their mental health.

Ramkarpal said the law cited by Che Mohamad related to the mental state of an accused when making a plea in court.

"This is very different from Section 309.

"An attempted suicide is an emergency situation which needs to be addressed immediately and not send a person to (a psychiatric facility) for evaluation for a month or extended period," he said.

He said amendments to decriminalise attempted suicide will be tabled and passed during the current Dewan Rakyat meeting following the Cabinet's approval to amend the law.

The current meeting ends on April 4.

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