In a country where mental disorders are still treated as a social stigma, the Senate Standing Committee on Interior’s move of decriminalising suicide attempts is a welcome precedent. On Thursday, Dec 28th the committee passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017 that seeks to replace the colonial penal law that had focused on the pretext that since Islam forbids suicide anyone attempting it should be punishable by law. But the new bill seeks to provide support and treatment to an individual who attempts suicide instead of having them face any legal charges.
This is a huge step considering that the country has a significant number of people suffering from mental disorders. Last year, it was reported that around 50 million people were suffering from common mental disorders — 15 to 35 million adults are affected by a mental illness while approximately 20 million children need attention from mental health practitioners. Considering the stigma that surrounds mental illness and the lack of awareness in realising mental health issues, it is safe to assume that many more cases go unreported.
While it is appreciative that the Senate has decriminalised suicide attempts, it is also important to raise awareness about mental health in the country. People not only in rural areas but urban centres as well often fail to recognise that they are suffering from a mental disorder or have a history of depression that might push them to the extent of committing suicide. In fact, lack of understanding on the part of the society further ostracises the sufferer. On the other hand, the lack of health providers — only 400 trained psychiatrists for the entire population of a 200 million — and limited mental healthcare centres further adds to the problem.
In the wake of these issues, the passage of the bill should be coupled with efforts that help normalise mental health discourse in the country and increase in the number of professional practitioners and centres.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2017.