Change the law on criminality of suicide

It is time we asked ourselves how to combat the growing problem of suicides.

As a medical doctor, I have encountered many people who are actually parasuicidal - that is, they have no real intention of killing themselves.

Most of these are teenagers or young people, overdosing themselves with over-the-counter medication, like painkillers.

Depression from relationship or family problems is the most common reason for their act.

There are several challenges in managing parasuicidal patients.

First, patients and their families are often very emotional at presentation.

As attempted suicide is a criminal offence, informing the police is mandatory.

Not uncommonly, patients and their families become even more emotional when they are interrogated by the police.

Second, though we routinely refer patients to psychiatrists for assessment and intervention, many of them are worried that their psychiatric records may leave a permanent black mark on their medical records.

Third, most insurance companies do not reimburse hospitalisation costs for psychiatric illnesses like depression, which, in turn, discourages patients from seeking professional help.

Perhaps, we could change the law on the criminality of committing suicide.

We should also make counselling by professional psychologists compulsory for those who have attempted suicide.

Could we also include a confidentiality clause in patients' psychiatric records so that future medical staff will not have knowledge of patients' psychiatric records?

We also need to ensure that our teachers and parents are equipped to spot depression among the young, as well as make sure that at-risk youth are provided with adequate help.

It will take great effort from the whole society to help stem this problem.

Desmond Wai (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2018, with the headline 'Change the law on criminality of suicide'. Print Edition | Subscribe