The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) urges the government to repeal Section 309 of the Penal Code that criminalises attempted suicide. Professional, evidence-based interventions should be the way forward in addressing the problem of suicides.
The Malaysian Guideline on Suicide Prevention and Management, published by Ministry of Health (MOH) in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2013 is comprehensive. It should be updated and used as a framework in addressing the problem of suicides.
The guidelines state that “the implementation of this guideline calls for innovative, new models of community mental health tapping on the strength of all relevant agencies”.
One of these ideas, which is already implemented, is the Community Mental Health Centres, also known as Mentari which are walk-in centers where mental health services are made more accessible. Continuation of treatment and psycho-social services are among the services provided to those in need.
Multi-agency involvement is one approach that should be given a serious thought. Engagement with consumer groups (suicide survivors), friends and family of the victims, NGOs like Befrienders, Malaysian Mental Health Association; and Talian Nur under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, together can form stronger support systems.
While suicidal thoughts can sometimes arise in time of stress to many, when coupled with a plan and carried out, is a symptom of an underlying mental disorder. Suicide is preventable and numerous studies have shown that better outcomes can be achieved with timely, evidence based interventions from trained professionals like counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and primary care physicians from both the government and private sector.
Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, substance abuse and certain personality disorders are among some of the main risk factors for suicide.
Depression is a major concern and especially now as the country is in its recovery phase of the MCO. The MCO had affected the livelihoods of many Malaysians and many are going through tough financial times. MMA is concerned that financial stress may lead to an increase in cases of depression, anxiety and, ultimately, suicides.
Depression must be given more serious attention. Numerous studies have indicated that the majority of suicides are linked to depression. According to WHO, globally, over 264 million people of all ages, suffer from depression.
In Malaysia, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, 2.3 per cent of our adult population has depression. We estimate cases of depression in the country is much higher as many do not seek professional help and a number of cases are undiagnosed and untreated.
Mental health must be made a priority in our public health care system. Awareness on mental health issues needs to be increased. The public must be aware that there is help available from trained professionals. Mental health should be our focus in preventing and reducing cases of suicide. People who attempt suicide need help, not punishment.
Dr N. Ganabaskaran is president of the Malaysian Medical Association.
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