The comments by the first deputy speaker of parliament and the minority leader, Haruna Iddrisu and Joseph Osei-Owusu respectively on the floor of parliament in the wake of the debate to decriminalize attempted suicide are very unfortunate.
I had long thought that Haruna Iddrisu, the much-touted walking encyclopedia of Ghana’s parliament was indeed the Einstein until his unfortunate comment or rather a dishonest thought.
Hon. Haruna Iddrisu comment that parliament should not decriminalize attempted suicide and the country should continue to jail persons who attempt to commit suicide to serve as a deterrent to others is a sad one to note. Haruna Iddrisu even made his case unconvincing by citing a scenario where a man hanged himself after having a fight with his sister, saying, people like that cannot be said to have a mental illness. The minority leader ought to be told that mental illness comes in various forms and it is not only those who roam naked on the street.
Over 90% of persons who commit suicide have mental problems in one way or the other underlying their actions. Surprisingly, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu rather sees altruistic suicide as a justifiable act but condemns suicide in depression and stress. He stated, “You do not want to think that when you have depression and distress, the ultimate thing is that you go and take your life since you cannot recover your life back”. In this era of internet buzz, the gentle minority leader could have done himself good by doing a simple search rather than making an unsubstantiated statement.
Is Hon. Huruna Iddrisu oblivion of section 76 (10) of the Mental Health Act, 2012 or the parliament’s walking encyclopedia didn’t revise his notes before the debate? The criminal code section 57(2) of the criminal offences Act, 1960 (act 29) which criminalizes attempted suicide in Ghana is contrary to section 76 (10) of the Mental Health Act (Act 846) which clearly states, “A court may authorize for psychiatric assessment of a person who attempts to commit suicide”.
In this vein, the Mental Health Authority and other stakeholders have organized several workshops for Judges and Magistrates across the country on how to suspect mental illness in line of their duties and to refer them to the psychiatric hospitals for assessment.
The Mental Health Advocacy Gh also petitioned parliament to repeal this colonial era-law thus section 57(2) of the criminal offences act, 1960 (Act 29) which has outlived its purpose.
The first deputy speaker of parliament, honorable Joseph Osei-Owusu on the other hand claims no person have been prosecuted in Ghana for attempting to commit suicide and that the call to decriminalize the law is needless. Is the Bekwai MP really serious? Evidence abounds on the internet and the Hon. MP could have sought help by a simple search rather than exposing his ignorance. The evidences are there:
In 2011, a farmer in the Ashanti region was convicted and sentenced to 3 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to attempted suicide. The farmer was said to have claimed that he was not loved by his community and so he decided to kill himself from this world by cutting his throat but was fortunately rescued by a passer-by. The Good Samaritan reported him to the police where he was medically treated in a hospital and subsequently jailed. This was a case of mental illness who needed psychiatric treatment but instead, he was given a jail sentence to worsen his plight. See https://www.modernghana.com/news/329852/suicide-man-jailed.html
In another incidence of such cruelty of the anti-suicide law in Ghana, a 20-year-old male student was in 2005 sentenced to 24 months in prison by a magistrate court for attempted suicide. See https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Student-jailed-for-attempted-suicide-88687.
The comments by these two MPs tell industry players in the mental health sector that a lot more education and awareness creation about mental illness needs to be done to demystify the myth surrounding mental illness.
It is interesting to note that England abolished its laws criminalizing attempted suicide in 1961, only a year after the same law was passed in Ghana, the then Gold Coast, yet Ghana and several of the British former colonies continue to maintain and criminalizes attempted suicide instead of also repealing same.
Countries that have decriminalized attempted suicide including India, Canada, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia, according to media reports have recorded a significant decrease in the suicide rate.
It is the hope that Ghana will also repeal and decriminalize attempted suicide. Suicide is a psychological or mental problem that needs psychiatric treatment, not imprisonment. Suicide is a call for help.
The writer, Malcolm Ali is a mental health advocate and a psychiatric nurse at Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital.