Date: 12 October 2018
Press Release of Malaysian Psychiatric Association
The News Straits Times recently highlighted that people who have attempted to end their lives in Malaysia are faced with punitive measures.
Section 309 of the Malaysian Penal Code states that ‘Whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offence; shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.’
The origins for this law dates back to colonial rule and the Indian Penal Code which formed the basis of our Penal Code. The United Kingdom and India decriminalised suicide in 1961 and 2016 respectively.
Suicide is defined as an intentional and voluntary act to end one’s own life. According to the current literature on suicide, close to 800,000 people lose their lives each year to suicide, which equates to one loss of life every 40 seconds (World Health Organisation (WHO), 2016).
The Ministry of Health’s 2008 – 2010 National Suicide Registry Malaysia reported a suicide rate of 1.18 per 100,000 while a recently published systematic review of suicides in Malaysia (Armitage et al, 2015) reported a 3 – 4-fold higher prevalence of 6 to 8 per 100,000 population.
The 2017 Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) reported that nearly 7% of Malaysian adolescents have attempted suicide.
Individuals who attempt suicide or self-harm are in duress and at their most vulnerable. Mental illness is one of the most important risk factors for suicidal behaviour, whereby 90% of those who die by suicide have at least one psychiatric diagnosis.The strongest predictor of a suicide is a past attempt. Most individuals who attempt suicide see it as an end to suffering. One of the key barriers to suicide prevention is the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviour. When suicide is considered a criminal act, this may serve to potentiate this stigma even further and deter people who truly need help from seeking it.
Therefore, the Malaysian Psychiatric Association calls for unified policy action by Parliament and the repeal of this archaic law.
Punishment and threat of vindication by law do not only keep people who are in crisis away from seeking much needed help but can potentially worsen their suffering. A greater proportion of the developed and developing world have or are moving towards decriminalising suicide.
Instead of spending money prosecuting those who have attempted suicide, a better investment in the nation’s mental health and National Suicide Prevention Strategy would go a long way towards preventing suicides. This would include reducing access to the means of suicide, responsible media reporting, reducing stigma and investment in treatment. Importantly people who have attempted suicide should be provided follow-up care and community support.
In short, suicide prevention is a collective initiative resonating with this year’s theme of World Suicide Prevention Day:
Working Together To Prevent Suicide
Bersama Mencegah Bunuh Diri
MALAYSIAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION (MPA) committee members
with support from LAMAN MINDA
Please download the Press Release in English and BM below…