Stepping up efforts to improve mental well-being of Malaysians


Unlike other illnesses that can be cured with the right medication, the treatment for mental health problems encompasses a host of aspects as it needs a more holistic approach.

Mental health campaigns and programmes deserve to be given more consideration, recognition, attention and financial assistance in order to create a society that is liberated from problems that have the capacity to wreak havoc on the minds and psyche of individuals.

The question is, however, whether these measures are sufficient or if other avenues have to be explored to check the rising statistics pertaining to mental health cases.

Local experts have urged the government to develop an index to measure the psychological well-being of the people, in particular, the workforce, and establish a Mental Health Institute that can serve as a one-stop centre to carry out research and treat people afflicted by mental illness.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said mental health problems must be addressed quickly to prevent stress from building up and translating into anger, violence, depression and even suicide. A lot more needs to be done for mental patients in this country besides extending to them the usual treatment, counselling and care, he said.

"The government should also provide the necessary amenities to tackle mental health problems," he said.

According to Lee, stress at the workplace, financial problems, environment and failure to perform up to expectation were identified as causes of mental illness.

"It does not necessarily strike individuals who have a history of mental illness because many of the cases also involve individuals who were initially healthy but became mentally troubled after entering the workforce or getting married," he said.

The Public Service Department has also said previously that civil servants in the 30 to 40 age group were most prone to stress, he said, reiterating that by 2020, stress is set to become the number one disorder in the world if it is not addressed properly.

Lee, who is a member of the Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council, also advocated the development of a psychological well-being index for Malaysia based on its own terms of reference and parameters.

"The time has come for the government to introduce a mental health evaluation system in view of the rise in the number of cases related to mental health, including drug addiction," he told Bernama.

He said the development of the psychological assessment index can be left to the Health Ministry and its product can then be utilised by the organisations concerned to plan programmes to address mental health issues in this country.

"I've been consistently raising mental health and psychosocial issues that have affected homes, schools and workplaces and which, in general, also affect the well-being of the community," he said, adding that he regarded mental illness as a time bomb that could detonate at any time if it is not handled effectively.

Mental Health Foundation executive director Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Abdullah, meanwhile, called for the establishment of a Mental Health Institute to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illness through basic and clinical research.

Such an institute, he explained, would enable the integration of the three key functions associated with the treatment for mental illness and problems. The three functions are research, multi-level training and national and international networks.

"Usually, such a Mental Health Institute would also have another key function, namely providing services to patients and clients," he said, adding that it can be jointly run by a government department and university.

Lee, who is also Malaysian Psychiatric Association patron, welcomed Abdul Aziz's suggestion, saying that the institute could help the government to study and plan the overall development of mental health in this country.

Such a measure, he added, was important because by 2020 depression would become a major mental health issue among Malaysians due to increased work- and family-related stress.

According to a study carried out by experts, the number of depression cases in Malaysia increased by 50 percent from 2011 to 2015.

"The (proposed) Mental Health Institute can study ways to coordinate all mental health-related services provided by the Health Ministry and other agencies to facilitate early detection of mental illness and faster and more effective treatment," he said.

Lee also said that the government should consider providing income tax relief to parents or relatives taking care of mentally ill patients, as well as tax incentives to private companies that offer job opportunities to people who have recovered from mental illness.

"The government could also consider giving mentally ill patients insurance protection and upgrading the quality of health services provided to them by government hospitals. The cost of the medicines they take should also be made more affordable," he said.

Lee also urged the government to create an employee assistance programme to provide counselling services for employees affected by mental health issues.

"All the parties involved, including employers, office colleagues and local communities, should exercise responsibility in promoting mental health," he added.


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