Malaysian Princess Becomes the International Face of Mental Health, Aims to Decriminalize Suicide
The eldest daughter of Malaysian King Yang di-Pertuan Agong was recently appointed the international patron of the World Mental Health Day 2020.
Royal advocate: Known for her mental health advocacies, Tengku Puteri Raja Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah was appointed the role upon the recommendation by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), The Star reports.
The appointment was acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Observers believe the appointment will serve as a huge boost to Malaysia’s advocacy work in mental healthcare.
According to the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) president Dr. Andrew Mohanraj, the appointment recognizes the collective efforts made by many in Malaysia in support of mental health.
“Tengku Iman’s appointment is an honor for Malaysia and also a recognition of mental health advocacy work done by her in her personal capacity and also by the numerous organizations in the country, ’’ Dr. Mohanraj was quoted as saying.
Dr. Mohanraj, who was also elected to represent the Asia-Pacific region on the board of WFMH, said such recognition would inspire a multi-sectoral approach towards better care and protection for persons with psychiatric illness.
Call to decriminalize suicide: Princess Tengku Iman has been vocal in support for mental health awareness and has joined the calls by many in Malaysia to decriminalize suicide, according to the New Straits Times.
Last month, mental health advocates in the country launched an online petition urging Attorney General Idrus Harun and the Malaysian House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) to decriminalize the act of suicide.
Petitioners wrote that decriminalizing suicide is an important step in “breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and ensuring a society where we are able to access support without fear of judgement, discrimination, or punishment.”
Tengku Iman made a public call for suicide to be decriminalized during the World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, following a speech highlighting Malaysia’s efforts in combating and managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am certain that we have set standards on what good public health management should be,” she was quoted as saying during the launch of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association. “We should keep the momentum going by also setting standards on what good mental healthcare should be, and it must be part of our recovery in the ‘new normal’ phase.”
She then went on to share her own battle with anxiety and discussed the stigma people have about it, saying: “Throughout my mental health journey, I have always felt that stigma is the biggest hurdle that we face and that more must be done. If we continue to penalize those who attempt suicide, it will only continue to perpetuate the stigmatization of mental health.”
She also sought more sustainable means for the public to access mental health without fear of judgment.
Highlighting the need for communities to lend support to each other, she noted: “Connectedness is crucial to those vulnerable to suicide and reaching out to them and providing them with the support and companionship they need would be life-saving.”
Between January and June alone, there have been 465 recorded suicide attempts in the country, according to Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba.
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