‘Distress calls on the rise’

PETALING JAYA: Distress calls related to feelings of suicide have been on the rise since the government’s move to decriminalise suicide attempts, with more now open to seeking help, says the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA).

Its president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said there was a 20% increase in calls to its centre from those with suicidal inclinations.

“This could be related to repealing this particular piece of legislation, which was likely to have been a barrier to help-seeking behaviour,” he said.

MMHA, he said, generally received about 180 to 200 calls monthly from those seeking help for various kinds of psychological distress.

He added that callers who expressed suicidal thoughts were also found to be open about their feelings, expressing hopelessness and loneliness as well as negative coping strategies like increased use of sleeping medication and alcohol.

However, Dr Andrew said most were keen on receiving appropriate support.

“This is a welcome development as many would previously shy away from receiving help despite expressing their feelings,” he added.

Stigma, he explained, was the biggest contributor to the high treatment gap for mental conditions in Malaysia.

“Our treatment gap is at 80%. This means for every 10 persons needing mental health support, only two reach out for help.

“As far as suicide is concerned, stigma involves negative perceptions that suicidal people are weak and are therefore unable to cope with their problems, make a fuss over nothing or are just selfish,” he said.

He added that those with previous histories of suicide attempts or those with family members who committed suicide were victims of social stigma.

Internalised stigma posed a significant risk factor for suicide while also acting as a barrier to help-seeking behaviour, he said.

“There is also a self-stigma experience by those with a personal experience of suicide attempts or depression who are ashamed of their behaviour or experience.

“This reduces their self-esteem, moving them away from seeking help,” he said.

Befrienders KL publicity director Ardy Ayadali said the support group received some 4,466 distress calls from May 23 to July 18 this year, while 4,613 calls were recorded in the corresponding period last year.

“It’s still quite early to see any significant behavioural changes or how people with suicidal intention reacted to this (suicide bids being decriminalised).

“We are hoping that with the decriminalisation, more will step forward and seek help as treatment and support are available to them,” he added.

For those with loved ones showing suicidal inclinations, Ardy said it was important to acknowledge and validate their feelings.

“Never diminish or brush them aside. Encourage them to talk about their distress and let them ventilate. Hear them out while avoiding being judgemental or even giving advice,” he said.

It was also important to encourage the affected person to seek professional help if the suicidal intentions were strong, Ardy added. “Offer to go with them. That can be a huge help too.”

On May 22, the Dewan Rakyat unanimously approved amendments to the Penal Code (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2023 to decriminalise attempted suicide.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Legal and Institutional Reforms) Ramkarpal Singh said among the amendments, comprising four clauses, was one deleting Section 309 of Act 574, thus removing attempted suicide as a criminal offence.

Previously, Section 309 made attempted suicide a punishable offence of up to a year in jail, a fine or both, upon conviction.

The amendments also recognise any abetment of an attempted suicide by any individual as a criminal offence under Section 306 of Act 574.

Previously, Section 306 only provided for the offence of abetment of suicide and or attempted suicide with up to 10 years in jail, and a fine upon conviction.

In addition, it would also be a criminal offence for those who abet the suicide attempt of a child, a person of limited faculties or a person in a state of intoxication under Section 305.

The two Bills related to decriminalising suicide attempts were passed in the Dewan Negara on June 20.

The Befrienders can be contacted at 03-7627 2929 or through www.befrienders.org.my while MMHA can be contacted at 017-613 3039.

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