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Expert criticises old mental health law

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By Eric Msikiti

An associate professor in mental health at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences Chiwoza Bandawe has described the mental health law that the country currently uses as too archaic for modern values.

Bandawe was commenting on reports that government wants to table a Mental Health Bill during the next meeting of Parliament, which, among others, tackles issues of mental health.

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He said having provisions that criminalise suicide when many countries already repealed theirs is counterproductive.

“We have been advocating for the repealing of the archaic law. It is a law that has been there for years, from the colonial period. Even in countries where attempted suicide was a crime, they revised the law,” Bandawe said.

He added that several Commonwealth countries no longer criminalise suicide apparently because such acts are not in line with modern values.

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“The review is long overdue. Instead of helping survivors of suicide, we are punishing them. I am glad that steps are being made to review the law,” the psychologist said.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide, which it describes as death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die, is a large and growing public health concern.

“Suicide and suicide attempts cause serious emotional, physical and economic impacts. People who attempt suicide and survive may experience serious injuries that can have long-term effects on their health,” CDC says.

It adds that such people may also experience depression and other mental health concerns.

The health protection agency further states that suicide and suicide attempts affect the health and well-being of friends, loved ones, co-workers and the community.

“When people die by suicide, their surviving family and friends may experience shock, anger, guilt, symptoms of depression or anxiety and may even experience thoughts of suicide themselves,” CDC says.

The new Mental Health Bill reportedly covers such areas as well.

And according to Bandawe, most people who commit suicide want the pain to stop but do not know how, with killing themselves as the only option they are left with.

“So, if such people survive, we must help them instead of condemning them. There is hope and help available but many people do not have access to that,” he said.

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