In conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day earlier this month, gender equality group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) called for a repeal of Chapter 16, Section 309 of the penal code, which makes attempting suicide a seizable offence in Singapore.
Suicide is becoming less and less of a taboo in Singapore. Yet, it is still greatly misunderstood. Today, it is still against the law to commit suicide. According to Aware’s report Distress is Not a Crime: Repeal Section 309, the police are required to arrest suspects, and it is mandatory for third parties to report attempts and intentions to the police. I read a few articles about Section 309. A lot of them talk about how it discourages people from seeking help, sometimes even encouraging them to attempt again with stronger determination. They miss out something else that Section 309 does – the effects it has on survivors.
Here is one of the effects:
Potential employees like to ask about run-ins with the law. If a survivor chooses to be honest and tells him/her about previous suicide attempt(s), there is a high chance that, during the job interview, the survivor is already being looked at through tinted glasses; there is already a giant sign above the survivor’s head that exclaims “DON’T HIRE THIS PERSON”. In essence, it lowers one’s chances of getting a job. Knowing that a failed attempt is a contributing factor to failing a job interview might bring about feelings of bitterness and regret. Not just regret over attempting suicide, but regret over failing to commit suicide.
This criminalisation of suicide does more harm than good. Granted, it acts as a deterrent for some people. For others, however, it acts a motivator. As for survivors, it forces them to live in the shadow of their suicide attempts.
A personal recount
After my suicide attempt that landed me in Accident and Emergency to get my stomach pumped, the police wanted to handcuff me to the hospital bed while I was still unconscious. When my parents refused to allow them to do so, they settled for two police standing outside the room. After I was discharged, I had to go to the police station and was given an official warning letter from the police. I remember thinking to myself, “You won’t be able to charge me next time.” I then proceeded to plan what I thought was a perfect suicide, but (thankfully) I did not go through with it.
Fast-forward by four years: I applied for a job as a speech and drama trainer. After the interview, which went great, I was given a form to fill up before they would send my particulars to MOE to register me as a qualified trainer. One of the questions on the form asked if I had ever been charged in court or directly involved in any police case. I reluctantly ticked ‘yes’. Of course, questions from the interviewer ensued. I had to tell her about my attempt and illness.
You should have seen the look on her face. I walked out of the office feeling absolutely horrid and ashamed. Sure, I got the job in the end, but it does not change the fact that I was judged for being ill, and it hindered my chances of getting a job.
I blog about my past with suicide and self-harm; I openly talk about my illness; I believe that such things should be nothing to be ashamed of. Yet, this shame still clings onto me, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon.