Repeal law criminalizing attempted suicide – MHA boss

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Tamale. January 12, 2022: Prof. Akwasi Osei, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Authority, has called for the repeal of the law that criminalizes attempted suicide in Ghana. Attempted suicide is still considered a crime in Ghana. Suicidal behavior, he explained, is a mental health issue that requires assessment and rehabilitation, not a criminalization.

Prof. Osei made this call at the just ended two-day workshop on “Mental health reporting training for journalists” held in Tamale on January 11 and 12, 2022.

He explained that qualitative investigations into attitudes toward this law held by clinical psychologists, health workers, law enforcement officers and legal professionals in Ghana provide culture-sensitive arguments that support the call to abolish the law.

“The majority do not agree with the law criminalizing attempted suicide in Ghana. Suicide is a cry for help, and must therefore be managed by psychiatric support, not criminalization, prosecution and penalization,” he said.

Prof. Osei said the media can do better when reporting various aspects of mental health, especially in the areas of suicide, depression and stigma. He therefore charged participants at the workshop to use their understanding of mental health issues to educate Ghanaians on how to understand suicidal behavior and suicidal people and advocate to aid the work toward decriminalizing attempted suicide in Ghana.

An inspection of the global penal codes reveal that attempted suicide, also known as “nonfatal suicidal behavior”, “failed suicide attempt”, “nonfatal suicidal attempt”, or “parasuicide” is regarded as a criminal offense in a few other countries, including Bangladesh, India, Kuwait, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda and Singapore. These countries are incidentally former British colonial territories whose existing anti-suicide statutes form part of a corpus of laws imposed on the society during the period of colonial governance. The United Kingdom abrogated laws criminalizing and penalizing attempted suicide in 1961.

Attempted suicide is a crime under Ghana’s penal code. According to Act 29 section 57, subsection 2 of the Consolidation of Criminal Code (1960), “whoever attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanor”. A person who fails to execute a suicidal act therefore is quickly apprehended by police and placed in jail. He or she is arraigned in court at the nearest court date and prosecuted for the offense of attempted suicide. Upon conviction, which invariably is the case, he is subject to a custodial sentence of variable length from 3 months to two years. Alternatively, he may be asked to pay a heavy fine. In some instances, the convicted defendant receives a combination of a financial penalty and a custodial sanction.

The role of the media in the production and reproduction of stereotypical portrayals of mental health difficulties and suicide is of concern for the MHA, and so, it has held six media sensitization workshops since August 2021 to facilitate interaction with editors and reporters with a view to focusing on experiences of and insights into the challenges underpinning reporting on mental health stories.

The sensitization workshops which have been held in Greater Accra, Ashanti and now Northern regions have brought about 160 senior media practitioners to meet MHA leadership and mental health professionals, persons with lived experiences, and media scholars to discuss media depictions of mental health difficulties and suicide as an important element in shaping how the public understands the issues and how relevant agencies devise strategies to advocate and reduce stigma.

The agency’s helplines are 0303964878 and 0274435261.

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