Government Psychosocial Hotlines Received 12,000 Calls During Pandemic: Minister

The Attorney-General’s Chambers is currently reviewing Sections 305, 306, and 309 of the Penal Code related to suicide, according to Dr Adham Baba.

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — Three government psychosocial hotlines received 11,791 calls for assistance from March 25 to last month at the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia, said Dr Adham Baba.

The health minister said half of the calls made in those five months to a hotline set up by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in collaboration with Mercy Malaysia last March 25; to the KSK Care line by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM); and to the Talian Kasih line by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry were issues related to emotional support, and counselling for stress, anxiety, and loss of hope.

“Among the causes are factors like job loss, no source of income, interpersonal relationship problems, isolation, and decrease in access to assistance services during the Movement Control Order (MCO),” Dr Adham said during his speech at the launch of The Orchid Clubhouse, a centre for people with mental health problems, by the Mental Illness Awareness & Support Association (MIASA) in Petaling Jaya, Selangor earlier today.

He also said that 17 per cent of the calls made from March 25 to the end of August were to seek more information on Covid-19, 8 per cent on household issues including abuse, 7.4 per cent on financial and financial help issues, while 3.4 per cent were due to psychiatric problems.

World of Buzz reported that Befrienders, a suicide hotline by a non-profit, received a 9 per cent increase in calls during the first week of the implementation of the MCO last March, followed by a 14 per cent rise in the second week, and 38 per cent increase in April.

Dr Adham told the Dewan Negara last week that Malaysia has only 204 psychiatrists working in Ministry of Health (MOH) facilities, as well as 148 psychology officers, and 30 clinical psychology officers.

According to the Malaysian Medics International (MMI), Malaysia has a national average of 1.27 psychiatrists per 100,000 population, which does not meet the recommendation of major bodies like the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization that recommends a ratio of one psychiatrist per 10,000 population. Malaysia, said MMI, should ideally have 3,000 psychiatrists evenly distributed nationwide.

The health minister said in his written parliamentary reply that currently, MOH is taking the initiative to hire contract psychology officers to be placed at the district level throughout Malaysia, to meet the increasing needs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement released in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day today, Dr Adham stated that MOH supports efforts towards the decriminalisation of suicide, where legal amendments are currently being reviewed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers, focusing on Sections 305, 306, and 309 of the Penal Code related to suicide.

Section 305 refers to the abetment of suicide of a child or an insane person, Section 306 refers to abetment of suicide, while Section 309 refers to the attempt to commit suicide, whereby whoever attempts to commit suicide or acts towards the commission of such an offence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with a fine, or both.

“Efforts towards decriminalising suicide attempts will open up opportunities for patients with depression or suicidal behaviour to come forward, without stigma, for treatment and recovery,” Dr Adham said in his statement.

Based on MOH’s data, a total of 465 suicide attempt cases that received treatment in MOH hospitals were reported from January to June this year, which is 210 cases fewer compared to the same duration in 2019 that reported 675 cases.

The Malaysian Health Coalition had also urged the government to decriminalise suicide to ensure that those who are already overwhelmed by psychological burdens are not at risk of being double-penalised under the law.

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