Act fast in suicide cases

THE Mental Health Act will be amended to ensure that attempted suicide victims are given medical treatment within 24 hours after being rescued, says Ramkarpal Singh.

“The Mental Health Act is closely linked to attempted suicide and must be amended following feedback from our engagement sessions.

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

“The amendments will allow enforcement personnel such as firemen, police or others to send the person to hospital for medical treatment within 24 hours,” the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said when replying to a supplementary question raised by Dr Kelvin Yii (PH-Bandar Kuching).

Dr Kelvin 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 jail term of one year, a fine or both, upon conviction.

Earlier, Ramkarpal, who is in charge of law and institutional reforms, said the government agreed to treat attempted suicide as a public health issue rather than a criminal act.

He said this was in line with the classification of attempted suicide by the International Classification of Disease and World Health Organisation.

“Studies have shown that those who suffer from depression are 20 times more likely to have suicidal tendencies that result in death by suicide,” he said.

He also said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, a 2019 National Health and Morbidity Study showed that almost 500,000 Malaysians above 16 suffered from depression.

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

“Between January and December 2021, a total of 212,319 calls were received, which is almost a five-fold increase compared to 44,061 calls in 2020,” he said.

Ramkarpal disagreed with a suggestion by Datuk Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh (PN-Besut) 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 a person for psychiatric evaluation to determine his mental health.

Ramkarpal said the law cited by Che Mohamad was 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.

“It is not to send a person to Tanjung Rambutan for evaluation for a month or extended period,” he added.

Ramkarpal said amendments to decriminalise attempted suicide would 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.

Those suffering from problems or mental health issues can reach out to: Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935 or 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999 or WhatsApp 019-261 5999); Jakim’s Family, Social and Community care centre (WhatsApp 011-1959 8214); and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 or for a full list of numbers and operating hours).

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