Mental Health, Suicide and the Law in Malaysia

The prevalence of mental health conditions in Malaysia has increased in recent years, from an estimated 10.6% in 1996 to 29.2% in 2015.

The prevalence of mental health conditions in Malaysia has increased in recent years, from an estimated 10.6% in 1996 to 29.2% in 2015.1 The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that they now account for 16.8% of the global burden of disease in the country. Unfortunately, many people do not ever seek treatment , or they wait until they have been suffering for a long time.1

Only an estimated 44.1% of the people who need treatment receive it, likely because of stigma or not understanding that what they are experiencing is a mental health condition.1,2 Many people in Malaysia cannot recognize the signs of a mental health condition, and they may not be aware of available resources. Even when they are, there are a shortage of clinicians. There is only one psychiatrist and one clinical psychologist to every 100,000 Malaysians; in 2017, there were only 15 clinical psychologists employed in the public health service sector throughout the entire country.2

Advocates say that a contributor to the problem is Malaysia’s penal code section 309. Section 309 criminalizes suicide attempts, and 10% of people who are found by officers to have attempted to take their own life are taken to court. If found guilty, they can be punished by a fine and/or up to a year in prison. Experts say that rather than deterring suicide, laws such as these contribute to stigma and fear, and keep people from getting the help they very much need.3 Consistent with this argument, a 2014 report by the WHO found that suicide rates often decline in countries when suicide is decriminalized, since people are more willing to seek treatment.4 The WHO recommended that all countries review their laws to make sure they weren’t acting as a barrier to care. The Malaysian government is now considering removing the law, like their neighbor Singapore did earlier this year. Datuk Liew Vui Keong, a minister in the prime minister’s legal department, says he is committed to decriminalization before the end of the year and that those already in prison for the crime should be released once it is removed.3

Employers can support their workforce in Malaysia and around the world by offering a comprehensive suite of mental health initiatives, including employee assistance programs (EAPs); suicide prevention and postvention activities; peer and manager trainings; awareness and education campaigns; health benefits for psychological therapies; and anti-stigma projects.

Business Group on Health Resources

  • 1 | Ibrahim N, Lee TC, Midin M, Zainal NZ. Mental health services in Malaysia. Taiwanese Journal of Psychiatry. 2018;32(4):281-293.
  • 2 | Ning CS. Workplace mental health: The business costs. RELATE Malaysia;2020.
  • 3 | Burns-Pieper A. Reform urged in Malaysia after disabled man is jailed for attempted suicide. The Guardian;2020.
  • 4 | Preventing suicide: a global imperative. Geneva: World Health Organization 2014.

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