Decriminalisation Of Attempted Suicide – Freedom To Live, Not Freedom To Die

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The Psychiatric Association of Ghana (PAG) is excited and welcomes the news of the decriminalisation of attempted suicide by Parliament this week.

Having joined forces with other Mental health professionals and well-meaning Ghanaians to push for the repeal of the old law over the past decade, this is a win for the Mental health fraternity and the nation as a whole.

As Mental health medical professionals, we are aware of the complex medical and psychosocial implications of any attempt at suicide, and the long-term effects on the individual, the family and the society.

As such, decriminalising attempted suicide is a positive paradigm shift as a nation, however, education and awareness about suicide has become extremely important now, more than ever.

Statistics

Statistics by Ghana’s Mental Health Authority (MHA), shows that in 2018 the number of people who attempted suicide was 797.

This rose to 880 in 2019 and to 902 in 2021, while those who died by suicide went up from 69 in 2020 to 86 in 2021.

There are many others that are not reported because of stigma and fear of community and legal repercussions.

That implies that in reality, these figures are way higher than we know.

Globally, the statistics still stands at “somebody dies by suicide every 40 seconds”!

Rises

These rises in reported deaths by suicide can partly be attributed to our previous law in section 57(2) of the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), which states that: “A person who attempts to commit suicide commits a misdemeanour”.

This law, which has now been repealed, rather encouraged persons who attempt suicide to take all the necessary precautions to ensure they are successful, as a failure in such attempts was considered a crime.

Attempted suicide is, in its simplest form, a cry for help.

Severe clinical depression, substance abuse and misuse and other severe mental disorders (often undiagnosed) have been found to be far more common in people who attempt suicide than the general population.

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Criminal punishments previously applied to attempted suicide, have the ironic effect of encouraging persons who have suicidal tendencies to use lethal methods to ensure that they do not fail.

The arguments supporting criminalising suicide attempt could be categorised as follows:

I. To serve as a deterrent effect (as suicide scares people)

II. That People have no right to take life (they belong to the state)

Importance of de-criminalisation for healthcare

W.H.O report shows that the legal status on suicide around the world in the last 50 years has changed significantly.

WHO report (2014) shows that decriminalisation has had some positive effects in countries including:

I. Decline in suicide rates after decriminalisation

II. Increase in the reporting of suicide which helps prevention planning

III. Decriminalisation of attempted suicide encourages suicidal persons to report suicidal crisis early enough for help.

IV. Decriminalisation of suicide prevents underreporting, which in turn promotes accurate estimations that could guide planning for suicide prevention.

V. Decriminalising attempted suicide is being sensitive to the plight of suicide survivors and their families since majority of survivors may be dealing with untreated severe mental disorders.

VI. Decriminalisation of Attempted suicide may encourage Government to commit funds for suicide research.

Action points

Decriminalising attempted suicide does not mean legalising suicide attempt, it is rather a freedom to choose to live!

The government has done its part by decriminalising attempted suicide and this takes a huge burden off our patients (the survivors) and their families, we the service providers as well.

But as a society, we still have an ongoing part to play in eradicating suicide from our country.

Signs

We can act by recognising suicide warning signs and seeking help early.

The common warning signs of suicide are:

• Active suicidal thinking and verbalising.

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•Expressions of hopelessness and depression.

• Sudden recklessness, impulsivity and dramatic mood changes.

• Persistent anxiety and agitation.

• Expressions of feeling trapped.

• Expressions of no reasons for living, no purpose in life

• Increased alcohol or substance abuse

• Giving prized gifts and/or setting house in order

• Speaking in metaphors about travelling to a remote/unreachable place

• Withdrawal from friends and unexcited about life

• Acquisition of common items for suicide like rope, gun and poison in an individual who has recently changed

Seek help

No one needs to die by suicide.

Members of the PAG are spread across the country and are ready to render help if you call through these national helplines.

They are: 020-000-9997, 020-681-4666, 050-344-4793

Conclusion

The PAG express our deepest and most profound gratitude to all stakeholders and partners in the mental health fraternity who campaigned relentlessly and ceaselessly to bring about this victory.

We thank the sponsors of a private member’s bill to repeal from our criminal code, attempted suicide, that led to the decriminalisation on March 28, 2023, namely, Kwame Anyimadu-Antwi (MP, Asante Akim Central), the chairman of the Legal, Constitutional, And Parliamentary Committee of Parliament and his ranking member, Bernard Ahiafor (MP, Akatsi South), as well as all MP’s who graciously voted to carry this amendment.

A new dawn has broken in Ghana’s mental health in which the vulnerable in society have been given hope, and new chapter has been opened for people to freely choose life without fear of punishment.

Our society and democracy, has today become a tad stronger because of this amendment.

Let’s all act towards a suicide-free world, check up on someone today, get help for yourself today, suicide is not an option.

The writer is President,

Psychiatric Association of Ghana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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