Bandar Kuching MP clarifies his bid to have attempted suicide decriminalised

Dr Kelvin Yii

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KUCHING, June 12: There is no evidence to show that decriminalising attempted suicide will lead to more cases or even act as a deterrent from such cases.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said, instead, it might actually cause other adverse effects, including further marginalising people from getting access to much-needed help from mental health services.

He was responding to certain concerns raised by several parties that decriminalising attempted suicide will lead to more such cases from happening.

In clarifying the issue in a statement today, Dr Yii said, “First we need to remove the confusion that decriminalising it does not mean those who attempted suicide are left alone without any help, such as counselling, mental first aid or any other mental health care upon the victim.”

Decriminalising basically meant removing the criminal element of the act, which meant removing the ‘punishment element’ and risk of the person going to jail because of the act itself. Currently, attempted suicide is considered a criminal offence, but some of the survivors might be too ill to defend themselves in court.

“In such instances, a court order under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code for forensic mental health assessment would be ordered, which may take up to three months in an approved government psychiatric hospital,” highlighted Dr Yii.

“During this time, the person will be given care and thereafter returned to the system, i.e. prison. People who have been diagnosed with a mental illness will be reviewed by the prison psychiatric services.”

However, Dr Yii pointed out that the prison environment might heap more stress on the already distressed individuals.

“Even without a stay in prison, the stress of a possible trial can take a huge toll on them. The fear of the charge itself will stop them from further disclosing any other suicidal thoughts and thus marginalising them from needed help,” he argued.

As such, he emphasised that the attempt to decriminalise attempted suicide was to remove this stressful ordeal or even punishment and to allow them to get the help they so needed.

Citing the World Health Organisation (WHO), he said that at least 59 countries had decriminalised suicide, including North America, all of Europe, most of South America and some parts of Asia.

“Even the United Kingdom, of which the British Common Law formed the basis of our Penal Code, decriminalised suicide in 1961, while India, which shares a similar Penal Code to Malaysia’s, decriminalised suicide in 2014. In the UK, since the decriminalisation, there was even a decrease in the number of incidences,” he said.

Citing a study that reviewed the suicide rates of 23 countries that criminalised suicides or punished attempted suicides, researchers Mishara and Weisstub (2016) concluded that the suicide rates were not higher or lower when compared to other countries, nor did the change in suicide rates differ from the rest of the world.

“This shows that punishing those who have attempted suicides did not help reduce suicides,” he said.

However, Dr Yii emphasised that it was also important to note that decriminalisation should not be the sole step to address this growing issue.

“There also has to be a greater investment into the Malaysian Suicide Prevention and Strategic Action Plan and also a reform of the Malaysian Suicide Registry. On top of that, an extension of insurance coverage for mental health will also go a long way to help de-stigmatise and properly address this growing issue,” he reckoned. — DayakDaily