There is no evidence to show that decriminalising attempted suicide will lead to more cases or even act as a deterrent from such cases

There is no evidence to show that decriminalising attempted suicide will lead to more cases or even act as a deterrent from such cases, but instead it may actually cause other adverse effects including, further marginalizing them from getting access to much needed help from mental health services.

This is in response to certain concerns raised by different parties how the attempt to decriminalise attempted suicide will then lead to more of such cases from happening. I am glad that such conversation about this important topic is growing, but it is also important to clarify certain elements regarding the issue.

First we need to remove the confusion that decriminalising it does not mean that 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 means removing the criminal element of the act, which means removing the “punishment element’ and risk of the person going to jail because of the act itself.

In the current practise, an individual who is charged is brought to a court hearing. Unfor­­tunately, some of the survivors of suicide may be very ill and lack fitness to plead. 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 3 months in an approved government psychiatric hospital.

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, the prison environment may itself add further stress to the already distressed individual.

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.

So the attempts to decriminalise attempted suicide is to remove this stressful ordeal or even punishment but instead allow them to get the help that is so needed. Punishing those who have attempted suicide with legal action may worsen the suffering of people who are already in crisis.

According to the World Health Organisation, at least 59 countries have decriminalized suicide. Attempted suicide is decriminalized in North America, all of Europe, most of South America and some parts of Asia. Even United Kingdom, of which the British Common Law formed the basis of our Penal Code, decriminalized suicide in 1961 while India, which shares a similar penal code to Malaysia, recently decriminalized suicide in 2014. In the UK, since the decriminalisation, we have even seen a decrease in the numbers.

On top of that, Mishara and Weisstub (2016) reviewed the suicide rates of 23 out of 25 countries which criminalized suicides or punished attempted suicides; and 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 the punishing those who have attempted suicides did not help reduce suicides.

However it is 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 intoMalaysian Suicide Prevention and Strategic Action Plan and also a reform on 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.

Dr. Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
Media statement by Dr. Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen in Kuching on Wednesday, 12th June 2019