NGO calls for the decriminalization of suicide in Malawi

Connect Plus Resource Institute (CPRI) – an organization dedicated to promote mental health and wellness, and champion suicide prevention, helping save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide – has called for the decriminalization of suicide in Malawi.

CPRI executive director Dennis Mwafulirwa argued in an interview with Nyasa Times on Saturday that suicide is a public health issue and not a criminal offense; hence, the stakeholders need to work towards addressing it.

Mwafulirwa–Suicide is not a criminal offense, but a public health issue–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

“We need to address this barrier towards the prevention of suicide as well as addressing related stigma,” he said.

Suicide in Malawi is increasingly becoming one of the leading causes of premature mortality and the call for its decriminalization is coming 20 days before Malawi joins other countries across the globe in commemorating this year’s World Suicide Day on 10 September.

Mwafulirwa said as the world approaches the World Suicide Day, it is important that Malawians should reflect upon the devastating toll that suicide has on individuals, families, communities, and the nation as a whole, and to explore ways to reduce this burden together.

“We call upon the Ministry of Justice, the office of the Attorney General, Ministry of Health, the Malawi Human Rights Commission, the Malawi Parliament and all other relevant Stakeholders to work together and decriminalize suicide in our laws. As a nation, we must address suicide as a significant public health issue,” he emphasized.

Mwafulirwa challenged the government to take a leading role and provide a detailed roadmap that is coordinated and integrated including but not limited to long-term commitment to the cause, a national suicide prevention and mental health strategy, adequate funding and support towards suicide prevention and mental health promotion efforts and a comprehensive Covid-19 recovery plan.

He said it is sad that even during this time of Covid-19 pandemic, the funding that has been directed towards the Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health Units is very insignificant to do anything meaningful.

“These two important units together have been allocated MK15million in 2020 and MK8million as their annual running budget. This is unacceptable,” he said.

“It could be argued that the level of neglect by government in this case, is contributing to a state that undermines individuals and communities’ social and emotional wellbeing, thereby increasing their mental health vulnerabilities and risk of suicide. We know that mental illness and substance use disorders (SUDs) are among the common factors related to suicide.

“Therefore, the goal could be investing in mental health and suicide prevention services and to help reduce the number of immediate life-threatening situations related to mental illness and SUDs through increased education, crisis intervention, support, and follow-up services including those provided virtually and over the phone. This funding can be channelled both through public institutions as well as community-based organizations and NGOs working in the area. A public-private partnership approach could also be explored,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mwafulirwa has recommended that media reports about suicide should always include information about where to seek help, preferably from recognized suicide prevention services that are available.

He asked journalists to review the 2017 guidelines as provided by the World Health Organization.

“As an institution, we stand ready to work with the media and the general public on suicide prevention. Someone said, “even the most well-considered plan accomplishes nothing if it is not implemented.” This is where commitment from all of us is essential,” said Mwafulirwa.

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