KUCHING, June 10: Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii will moot decriminalising attempted suicide and lobby for insurance coverage for mental illnesses during the next Parliament sitting, which starts on July 1.
He would also be joining several MPs to form a Mental Health Caucus in Parliament.
“In Sarawak, there has been a cluster of such cases, with three cases of suicide and one attempted suicide in the past month alone. This not only affects older people or people of a lower socioeconomic class but also professionals and young people.
“In Sarawak, two of those cases involved youths and in the past six months around Malaysia, there were three such cases among medical doctors,” he told a press conference here today.
Citing the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2011, he said suicidal behaviour was highest among individuals aged 16 to 24. He said the survey also estimated that there could be up to 10 suicide deaths and 200 attempts daily in Malaysia alone, although many of them went unreported.
“The survey also showed that among individuals aged 13 and 17, suicidal behaviour is highest among Form 1 students. That is why it is important to properly address this issue and maybe take a different approach to the issue, including repealing the archaic suicide law,” he said.
Section 309 of the Penal Code provides for imprisonment of up to one year, with or without fine, on individuals who survived suicide. For instance, in March 2017, a 24-year-old woman in West Malaysia was charged in court a few days after she attempted to end her life. She was fined RM2,000 in default three months’ jail.
“The irony is this very same group of people are at increased risk of future suicide and, therefore, need the most help. Putting them in jail may increase that risk,” he reckoned.
In addition, there was no evidence to show criminalising suicidal acts to be a deterrent. It could actually have a very negative effect, further marginalising people from trying to access very much needed help from mental health services.
“Decriminalising suicide is also a step in making it okay to safely talk about suicide and mental health. On top of that, insurance companies should also extend their coverage on mental illnesses in their health insurance policies to provide greater access to mental health services even in private hospitals as well as help de-stigmatise people of mental health issues,” he argued.
He cited AIA Singapore, as an example worth emulating. The company recently launched its first package to cover mental illnesses, knows as Critical Care, covering five different groups of disorder, namely Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette syndrome.
On the proposed Mental Health Caucus in Parliament, he said, “This is to further promote such conversation beyond just our debate speech but also proper engagement with relevant stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health, Bank Negara, insurance companies and others.”
The proposed caucus would be open to MPs and assemblymen from both political divides to better engage different stakeholders and push for relevant policy changes, including revitalisation and reform of the Malaysian Suicide Registry that has been defunct since 2009 and also the Malaysian Suicide Prevention and Strategic Action Plan that was defunct since 2017.
“This is important to provide proper data on identifying mental health needs in the country and ideas on aspects such as risk factors for risk assessment,” he said. — DayakDaily