Keeping the conversation going about mental health

Recently, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the Attorney General’s Office is examining the legal options and implications of removing attempted suicide as a criminal offense.

This is an indication that Parliament might consider revising Article 309 of the Penal Code, which makes attempted suicide a criminal act.

The Prime Minister also called for a holistic approach when considering the issue of suicide.

Mental health workers warmly welcomed this announcement.

The Green Ribbon Group had long ago launched a public discourse not only on the revision of Article 309 of the Criminal Code, but also on the possibility for the courts to consider using the relevant provisions of the 2001 Law on Mental Health and Mental Health Regulations 2010, without having to refer to section 309.

To be fair to our criminal justice system, justice has always been tempered by leniency when it comes to cases involving suicide most of the time.

There have only been a few cases of prosecutions and convictions, but again, even one can be considered too many.

This is particularly the case when the Mental Health Act provides that the examining psychiatrist is responsible for the observation and treatment of the person concerned, as well as for making a recommendation which can be provided to the court.

We will leave the file in the hands of our parliamentarians on both sides of the fence to discuss it, in the hope that the House passes a resolution that is acceptable to all stakeholders.

Open conversation

Just around the corner on October 10, World Mental Health Day will be commemorated in most countries in one form or another.

Each year, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) submits a theme to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nations agencies, who then derive an appropriate slogan for use internationally.

Malaysia has been honored to have our own Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan as the international sponsor of World Mental Health Day 2020, whose term will end on October 10.

Many milestones were reached during this time and the decision to decriminalize suicide was just one of them.

This year’s slogan “Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality” or adapted in Malaysia as “Menuju Kesaksamaan Kesihatan Mental” will mark more than 18 months since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The day provides another opportunity for government leaders, civil society organizations and many more to talk about the steps that can be taken to make this slogan a reality.

WFMH President Dr Ingrid Daniels commented on the theme, stating: “Global access to mental health services remains uneven and the lack of investment in mental health disproportionate to the overall health budget contributes away from mental health treatment.

Former WFMH President and World Dignity Project President Professor Dr Gabriel Ivbijaro, in calling for action, said: “As a result of Covid-19, millions of people have discovered new health problems mental health and millions of others have seen their existing challenges exacerbated.

“While more people than ever are comfortable discussing mental health, many fall between the cracks between awareness and action. “

He added that the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental illness also affects their educational opportunities, current and future income and employment prospects, not to mention the impact on their families and loved ones.

Still, there is reason to be optimistic.

At the World Health Assembly in May 2021, governments around the world recognized the need to scale up mental health services at all levels.

Some countries have reported new ways of providing mental health care to their populations, such as school-based social-emotional learning programs to improve mental health and prevent adolescent suicide.

In Malaysia, the pandemic has brought up many mental health issues, not just concerns about the rise in suicide cases.

He shattered open public discourse on all matters relating to mental health.

Typically, these problems are avoided unintentionally, in part because of the lack of leadership evident in treating community mental health as a cross-cutting issue that goes beyond the conventional conception of health.

However, the pandemic has seen the emergence of new mental health nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and research institutions joining forces with the government to usher in a willingness to openly discuss mental health issues – a synergy that does not exist. ‘has not been optimized in “normal” times. .

Social anxieties

Even as the pandemic gradually normalizes to become endemic, issues like mental health in the workplace will continue to persist for some time.

Paradoxically, there is anxiety about returning to work with concerns about contagion, work schedules and changes in workspace.

Employees may have gotten used to the flexible lifestyle of working from home which allowed them more freedom to also focus on family or work on individual goals.

Therefore, those who have had the opportunity to work from home may find it frustrating to return to their old routine at the office.

Reports from public universities also suggest that while students initially wanted to return to campus, some have expressed reservations about doing so now.

Their reasons include fear of being infected with Covid-19 on campuses and hostels, as well as apprehension of having to use public transport.

Paradoxically, the predicted joy of returning to normal can also cause more anxiety in terms of social life.

Fears of maintaining a physical distance and interacting with someone whose vaccination status is uncertain can be overwhelming for some.

Questions about when to remove the face mask, or whether a refusal of a handshake might be considered offensive, could also increase worry and anxiety.

For many, the return to the new normal will look a lot like the old normal with all of its drawbacks and more.

There is a lot of work to be done.

Clearly, it’s not as easy as hitting the reset button.

Let us be innovative in our ways of tackling mental health issues, harnessing the great inner resilience of the Malaysian family as we enter a new dawn.

We need to keep the momentum going with the hope that returning to normal life doesn’t mean sweeping these tough conversations about mental health under the rug.

Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is a Consultant Psychiatrist, Policy Advisor to the Green Ribbon Group and President of the Malaysian Mental Health Association. For more information, send an email to [email protected] The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and should not be construed as personal medical advice. The star makes no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The star declines all responsibility for loss, material damage or bodily injury suffered directly or indirectly as a result of the reliance on this information.

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