Friday, June 30, 2023

When Suicide Is A Crime – Seeking Help In Difficult Times (includes Podcast version)

Overcoming Challenges: Dealing with Suicide in Criminalized Countries


I'm excited because Malaysia is decriminalizing suicide.



Click to hear the podcast version


I live in Malaysia, and up until now, dealing with suicide was tricky.

We had an old law, left over from colonial times I think, that criminalised suicide.

Malaysians are compassionate. In a crisis, most police, doctors and medical staff would help and not say a word.

But there were exceptions. Every now and again, suicide survivors rescued by their family and friends would be arrested, hauled up in court and fined.


Between 2014 and 2018, 11% of those facing suicide were arrested and taken to court. Penalties included fined and up to a year in jail.

There would always be protests about this. And thankfully, increasing outcry pushed politicians to finally change that law.

It's not quite a done deal yet, but ever since the process started, there has been a change in how emergencies are managed.

It's wonderful!


Seeking Therapy in Criminalized Countries

Sadly, many of my clients live in countries where suiciding remains a criminal act. When seeking therapy, this poses some problems.

So I'd like to discuss these a bit further and describe an approach that my clients and I use.

I have two aims here.

First, if you're stuck in this situation, I'm hoping that this will help you reach out more safely.

Second, if you are supporting a friend or loved one, this may be useful to you.

There is always help
There is always help

About Penalties for Suicide

Okay, so first thing is to know that in places where suicide is a crime, penalties vary.

Typically, courts impose fines and jail sentences. Some countries add flogging.

You might lose your job, have your kids taken away, or be divorced. The social stigma is huge.

In corrupt countries, a suicidal episode can also result in the police and other authorities demanding bribes.

Also, although it's not talked about much, abusive family members will use an incident in order to extort money or exert emotional blackmail.

About Barriers

As a result, people who are suicidal are too frightened to say so. They worry that asking for help will invite disaster.

This fear creates a considerable barrier. Sometimes, even close loved ones don't realise when someone is in trouble.

Second, being proactive and looking for help before you get to a crisis stage can be tricky.

Not all therapists take on suicidal clients. It's intensive work, risky, and so it's not everyone that's up for it.

And in countries where a crisis invites legal troubles, it's even harder to find someone who will take you on.

So, is it all doom and gloom? No. Absolutely not!

Sourcing Support

Finding support is perfectly possible, but it takes a bit of prep.

First, the law is an ass but there are many people who very quietly stick up two fingers to nasty rules.

You are never alone!

However, the key to finding your way is to be accountable.

You cannot throw the burden of care on to others. You are an adult and that means being responsible for yourself.

This is a challenge, especially when you're down, but it is essential. Make it a core principle.

Once you have that fixed in your mind, look for a mental health professional who can help provide support.

The most likely candidates are those who deal principally with depression and trauma.

Also, it's worth trying people who are LGBTQ affirming. I say this because many of the countries that criminalize suicide, also criminalize nonheterosexuality.

Second, before you start, ask about privacy. Specifically, ask who has access to your notes.

You don't want a fabulous therapist who then shares your notes with their boss, their staff, or a database that can be accessed by others.

Stay Safe! Safety Plan

Third, kick off therapy by deciding how you will deal with emergencies.

When you're upset, it's hard to think straight. A safety plan covers all the steps you should follow in a crisis.

  • Start with noting down what you have done in the past that helped.
  • Then ask, what exercises from sessions are helpful?
  • What will you tell yourself as alternatives to the dark thoughts?
  • What would you say to a close friend who was feeling this way?
  • What could others do that would help?
  • Who can you call? At this point, you list three trusted people you can reach out to.
  • What is a safe place you can go to?
  • And if you still feel suicidal and out of control, do you know a discreet doctor? Or perhaps there is a clinic that will quietly help you out? Write down the contact details.

You may want to rehearse a short cover story. For example, I am upset at a breakup. I would never hurt myself because that would be illegal but I am VERY UPSET.

Plan for a friend or relative you trust to come with you for this.

With a safety plan to back you up, enter counselling. Hopefully, you can get into a happier place.

Some Final Thoughts

Please know that you are not alone. There are millions of people who face suicide.

It is never easy. In films, they go to a hospital where there are trained staff to look after them.

They make it look so simple. So available.

In truth, there may be some rich big cities that have that service, but in most of the world, it simply isn't available.

It takes a dedicated ward and several shifts of trained staff to work 24/7. That's expensive! Most countries just don't have the resources.

Most people who are troubled, lean on friends and family to help them through rough times.

Life can be very difficult and silly laws can make it harder, but you can do this.

So make your list and reach out. 

Photo Credit: Image by Mohamad Hassan on Pixabay