AL Juhar Jamal Hussin, 19, tried to set himself ablaze during a protest at the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur. His parents were dead and the Rohingya teen felt all alone, stranded in a foreign country.

He may have felt that ending his life would end his sufferings. He, however, failed in his suicide attempt and was arrested, charged and sentenced to three months’ jail by the magistrate’s court.

Attempting suicide is a crime and punishable under Section 309 of the Penal Code.

Under the section, “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”.

But did he really commit a crime or was he crying out for help?

Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) president Anita Abu Bakar said the law on suicide should be amended to differentiate between the two.

“If it is a cry for help, it is not fair and it is not right (to criminalise those who attempted suicide) because the person is not a criminal but is ill.

“The law needs to be there as a deterrent, but it needs to be improved.

“A person who has attempted suicide must be given treatment, such as psychiatric help, and be placed in a rehabilitation centre.

“Someone with suicidal thoughts or has attempted suicide should be treated with compassion and supported by all parties.”

She said everyone contributed to the number of suicides.

“We have become individualistic. We have forgotten how to care. We no longer help. We are not patient enough and we belittle mental patients’ struggles.

“We judge and accuse them of making up stories or seeking attention.

“We call them ‘crazy’, which forces them to become secretive.

“Feeling dejected, they will no longer reach out for help and
end up suffering alone and in silence.”

She said people should be trained to handle cases involving those who wanted to attempt suicide.

Lawyer Datuk M. Reza Hassan said the law on committing suicide was outdated, adding that it should be amended to suit current needs.

“A law should not be static.

“This is an opportune time to evaluate whether amendments should be made.”

He said the Penal Code, which was adopted from India’s Penal Code, did not cite the need for counselling for those who attempted suicide.

Crime analyst Kamal Affandi Hashim, however, defended the law, saying that it was needed to deter others, especially those with drug addiction and alcoholism, from committing suicide.

He said magistrates, who attended to suicide cases, would request a psychological examination be conducted on suspects.

“Those with mental illnesses will be placed in a psychological hospital, while those who are cleared of mental issues will be sentenced.

“Rehabilitation starts in hospital. There is no issue that the law is unjust and outdated.”

Malaysian Psychiatric Association president Professor Dr Nor Zuraida Zainal said those who attempted suicide required help and should be placed under the care of psychiatrists.

“Putting them in jail will not solve the problem. Psychiatrists can help them look into their psychosocial issues.”

She said depression had been identified as the main factor that led many to commit suicide.

“They have no one to give them moral support or they are having financial and relationship problems. There are also those who feel hopeless and worthless.

“Patients with schizophrenia or psychotic disorders experience hallucination and delusion when they do not take their medication.

“These people will listen to ‘voices’ that command them to do things, such as to hang themselves.”

Dr Nor Zuraida said everyone had a role to help those with mental health problems and prevent them from committing suicide.

“Read the signs. For example, if your talkative friend suddenly talks less or it is hard to see him smile, go and talk to him.

“Those with depression will have a low mood, experience sleeping difficulties, loss of appetite, unable to focus and are always daydreaming.

“Those who have these symptoms should get help.”

Dr Zuraida said those with depression would be given antidepressant medication to elevate their mood and undergo psychotherapy.

Exercise and participation in meditation activities, such as yoga, can help the body to produce serotonin, which will boost one’s mood.

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In Malaysia, trying to take one’s own life is a punishable offence. But some say that these people are just ill and should not be criminalised. ALIZA SHAH writes.