No fewer than 41 health Civil Society Organisations have called on the Federal Government to end the criminalisation of suicide in the country.
The Punch reports that section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, 2004 states that “any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year”.
However, the groups lamented that criminalising the act does not give room for the provision of mental health help needed by the person, adding that the World Health Organisation frowned on this.
Speaking on behalf of the group on Thursday in Abuja, the founder, Nigerian Mental Health, Chime Asonye, said the governments should begin to treat suicide as a public health issue.
Asonye said, “The World Health Organization notes that criminalizing suicide discourages people from seeking help for their mental health, which would be counterproductive to the effective dispensation of the Mental Health Act.
“Suicide should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal one. Individuals who try to take their life are psychologically vulnerable and need support, not detention or jail. The public is encouraged to join thousands of others in adding their voice to repeal these laws by signing our petition.”
Asonye also called for the adoption of community-based approaches to the provision of mental health care services which should involve the inclusion of mental health support as a service delivered at primary health care centers across the country.
He added that there was a need for the domestication of the Mental Health Act, noting that the legislation should be adopted at the subnational level as state governments are critical actors in the dispensation of healthcare for citizens.
Asonye said, “Currently, only two states Ekiti and Lagos have mental health legislation in the entire nation. The new Mental Health Act is the first legislative reform adopted in the field since the country’s Independence.
“The regulation establishes human rights protections for those with mental health conditions, such as banning discrimination in housing, employment, medical, and other social services. It guarantees that those receiving treatments have the right to participate in the formulation of their medical plans and cannot have forced treatment, seclusion, or other methods of restraint without appropriate safeguards.
“It also improves care, enhances the management of medical services, enshrines dignity and access to information, and ensures quality mental health services comparable to those with physical illnesses. Previous legislation was outdated and inhumane, based on a regulatory regime that had colonial origins.”