The government should allocate a certain amount of the 2019 Budget to tackle mental health issues, said National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) chairman, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.
With the budget for health services increasing by 7.8% to RM29 billion, Lee said the Health Ministry should look into preventive programmes and efforts to combat stigma against those with mental illness.
“We have inadequate resource allocation for mental health. The government and Health Ministry should provide funds especially for treating mental health,” he said.
“A special division should be established to beef up the existing mental health unit in the ministry and help implement, and monitor the strategy on mental health development.”
Lee hopes that the plan will include the coordination of psychiatry and primary care services, increasing the number of counsellors at primary health clinics, improving training programmes, developing inter-sectoral anti stigma, and health literacy campaigns and enhancing promotion of mental health.
“In Malaysia, pervasive stigma on mental illnesses still exists and studies indicated that 40% of Malaysians would suffer from mental health issues in their lifetime,” he elaborated.
A 2017 survey by the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2017 on mental health among youths revealed that 29% of adolescents in the country are suffering from depression and anxiety disorder (2017) compared with 12% in 2011.
“The survey shows that one out of five adolescents feels depressed, two out of five feel anxious, 11.12% have suicidal ideation and 10.1 % had attempted suicide,” Lee stated.
“Another survey done by experts on the prevalence of depression among Malaysians also revealed a 50% increase in the number of depressed patients from 2011 to 2015. Mental illnesses are affecting our workforce including teachers and government servant.
“A study conducted by the Education Ministry last year for example, showed that 4.4% or 2,123 teachers were identified as experiencing moderate stress level while civil servants also achieved an average score in the Malaysia Psychological Wellbeing Index which was conducted in August,” he said, adding that Malaysia only spent about 1.3% of the government health budget on mental health compared to an international average of 2.8%, according to Harvard report in 2015.
Lee said the mental health problems will become the second biggest health problem affecting the people after heart disease by 2020.Mental health at workplace is expected to be one of the main concerns in the digital era which will affect the productivity of the employees.
He urges the government and the community at all levels need to address mental illnesses and develop preventive strategies and effective programmes in managing mental wellbeing.