MP in bid to decriminalise attempted suicide, obtain insurance coverage for mental illness

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii.

PETALING JAYA: A Sarawak MP has pledged to push for decriminalising attempted suicide when Dewan Rakyat convenes next month, following the recent case of a teenager in Kuching who jumped to her death after respondents to her online poll told her to choose “death”.

In a statement, Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said he was also forming a caucus with other MPs to engage with stakeholders to effectively address the issue of mental health.

He said this includes engaging with the health ministry and Bank Negara Malaysia in order to push insurance companies to extend medical coverage for cases of mental illness.

“We all have a collective responsibility to foster wellness, and to look out for one another in order to address this important issue,” he said, adding that mental issues affect everyone from all socioeconomic classes.

Under Section 309 of the Penal Code, those who attempt suicide can be jailed up to one year, fined or both.

The renewed interest in addressing suicide cases followed the death of a 16-year-old girl who jumped from the top of a shophouse in Batu Kawah, Kuching last month.

She had earlier posted an online poll on Instagram, seeking opinions on whether she should choose “death” or “life”. Some 69% of respondents asked her to choose the former.

Yii said there had been three cases of suicide and one attempted suicide in the past month alone, as well as three cases in the last six months involving doctors.

He cited data from the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2011 which states that suicidal behaviour is highest among individuals aged 16 to 24.

Among individuals aged 13 to 17, suicidal behaviour is highest among Form 1 students, he added.

The survey also estimates that up to 10 suicides take place each day with 200 attempts daily, although many of these go unreported.

“That is why it is important to properly address this issue and maybe take a different approach to the issue including repealing the archaic suicide law,” Yii said.

Saying there is no evidence that punishment for suicide is an effective deterrent, Yii said those convicted of attempted suicide would be prone to repeating the act.

“Putting them in jail may increase that risk,” he said.

He said insurance companies should extend their coverage on mental illnesses in their health insurance policies to provide greater access to mental health services including in private hospitals.

He said insurance firms could take a cue from a recently launched package by AIA Singapore to give coverage for mental illnesses.

The package covers major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome.