Mental Health Authority wants suicide decriminalized

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The Mental Health Authority says it is still pushing for the decriminalization of suicide to enable persons who fail in taking their lives to receive help and not prosecution.

Section 57 of the Criminal Offences Act – 1960 indicates that a person who attempts to commit suicide commits a misdemeanor while anybody who abets the commission of suicide by any person shall whether or not the suicide be actually committed, be guilty of first degree felony.

A person who attempted to commit suicide but failed may be fined, sentenced to three months imprisonment or both by a competent court of law.

Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Authority, said criminalization of suicide was making it difficult for people to seek help and freely confide in people their willingness to take their lives.

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Dr Osei said instead of prosecuting such persons, every person identified to have considered or attempted any form of suicide must immediately seek help from a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

He disclosed that his outfit was still dialoguing with stakeholders to ensure that suicide was decriminalized.

He however added that many parliamentarians including medical doctors did not see the need for the decriminalization “as they see it as a license for people to commit suicide”.

The Mental Health Authority CEO appealed to churches to stop describing suicide as a sin and spiritualizing mental health challenges.

He indicated that most church counsellors were not well equipped to handle persons suffering from any form of mental disorder and therefore urged them to refer such persons to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologists instead of resorting to prayers and spiritual directions.

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Dr Osei also regretted that culturally, suicide was considered a taboo and anyone found to have killed himself would have his or her corpse punished for bringing shame to the society.

He added that there were no proper medical records on suicide attempts as such cases were not documented as causes of death.

He said his outfit was training judicial staff on mental disorders while giving health officials the needed skills to properly handle suicide attempts issues before referring to the specialists.

According to him, health personnel must recognize it as an emergency, adding, “it is like an accident victim or collapsed patient who need urgent medical attention”.

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He encouraged the public to offer help to people with suicidal tendencies, ensure all possible objects of suicide were removed, take the person to the nearest health facility and keep an eye on them.

He stated that low tolerance level, breakdown of coping mechanisms, graphic reportage on suicides led to copycat suicide, knowing suicide techniques, and availability of suicide tools were some of the issues which fed suicide tendencies.

Others were relationship problems, sense of disconnect from others, loss of sense of belonging and feeling of not being loved, belief of becoming a burden, and sense of failure and frustration.

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