Mental Health is an almost silent epidemic

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Despite its increasing significance of good mental health, governments, public health practitioners and citizens tend to pay little attention and consequently fewer resources towards mental health.

Patients with mental illness suffer a great deal and are unable to function normally. On top of that, they face discrimination and rejection from the community, and this has a detrimental effect on their recovery.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four individuals develops a common mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety, every year. Two in every 100 people in our community develop schizophrenia or manic depression (bipolar disorder) in their lifetime. 2-3% of all families have a family member who is affected by intellectual disability. Five of the 10 leading causes of disability are mental disorders – depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The symptoms of a mental disorder may greatly reduce one’s ability to work, study or participate in community life. The disorder could also lead to other health problems, and in some cases, even suicide..

Even worse, on average, the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific region devote less than 1% of their health budgets to the treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Region-wide, one in five individuals who seeks the help of a healthcare professional suffers from a mental disorder. Of this number, only a fraction are properly diagnosed, and of those who are, few ever get treatment or receive appropriate care.

The number of people at risk of developing mental health problems is increasing daily. People in developing and developed countries of the Western Pacific region are becoming increasingly vulnerable to mental illness.

It is believed that depression will be one of the largest health problems worldwide by 2020. Surveys show that mental disorders occur in one in five individuals, or 20% of the world population, each year.

There is growing evidence to show that the burden of disease in societies is gradually but surely moving towards mental diseases. While heart disease, cancer and HIV-AIDS take their toll yearly in the form of death, mental disorders, such as depression, are rapidly becoming a major source of stress not only to the individual and his family, but also to his community.

In Malaysia, most mental health promotions are focused on the individual. Often overlooked are other essential factors, such as the conducive environment to the development of healthy bodies and minds.

Poorly planned urbanisation and uncontrolled deforestation could contribute to poor mental health of the people. Unstable economic status, increased unemployment, poverty, and severe stress have proven disruptive to mental health as well.

When dealing with mental disorders, it is essential to address the stigma attached to it. Stigma devalues a person and affects his self-image. Some of the harmful effects of stigma include refusal to accept illness, delaying or refusing treatment, isolation, fear, and shame.

Creating greater awareness of mental health, empowering the mentally sick and their family members to stand up against the stigma and discrimination through education and engaging the public to understand the issues related to mental disorders are some strategies that can be undertaken to de-stigmatise mental illness.


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