The recent launch of the Ministry of Health’s 2020-2025 Mental Health Strategic Plan and the government’s agreement to repeal Section 309 of the Penal Code which criminalises suicide are major milestones and game changers in the area of mental health in Malaysia.
The need for a clear framework outlining the vision and commitment of the government on the issue of mental health has often been expressed and its realisation long overdue.
The decision to repeal Section 309 will finally bring Malaysia out of the 20 countries in the world which continue to criminalise suicide and attempted suicide.
With the strategic plan in place and the intention to repeal Section 309, we need to look towards the development and strengthening of structures to support those facing mental health issues and suicidal ideation, especially those who are most vulnerable.
The Ministry of Health informs us that the cases and challenges of mental health are far more than what has been reported. The services that people depend on, especially those in the public health sector, need increased investment and development, especially in increasing the number of skilled personnel and expertise.
Certainly, it is not sufficient to just have a strategic plan. It must be supported by an action or work plan which is supported by sufficient resources and political commitment to ensure the strategic plan’s success. This is a real boost to mental health.
The past 18 months of the Covid-19 crisis has caused tremendous disruption and upheaval. So many people have been grappling with changes to their mental health, including experiencing depression, anxiety, grief, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and suicidal ideation.”
Those already living with mental health conditions experienced severe disruptions to their lives, especially accessing support services. Those who previously did not consider themselves at risk, were for the first time in their lives, seeking therapy. including myself. Existing mental health services, both in the private and public sector, have been stressed and stretched beyond capacity.
Legislation such as Section 309 contributes to stigma and discrimination around mental health. Decriminalisation has been shown to reduce suicide rates, puts essential services within reach, and enable those in acute crisis to receive the support needed.
A compassionate and empathetic approach to this issue anchored on treating and providing necessary care to the individual, will bring hope to many.
Azrul Mohd Khalib is Chief Executive of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.
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