34,000 seek mental health treatment yearly in Sabah


KOTA KINABALU: Annually, there are about 32,000 to 34,000 mental health patients seeking treatment at various facilities offering psychiatric services in Sabah, according to Sabah Mental Association president Rizal Osoi.

Stigma remains a challenge faced by those suffering from mental illnesses, and the friends and families of these persons, he said this when met after the launch of a public seminar on ‘Celebrating World Mental Health Day’ at Sabah Oriental Hotel, Karamunsing.

Rizal emphasized that mental health problems are just a form of medical illness that with early diagnosis and treatment can be treated, with compliance to medication.

“As far as psychiatric services are concerned, particularly in Sabah, the facilities are more than enough. There are few hospitals with resident psychiatrists,” he said.

He also said that the facilities provided by the government are very comprehensive and aside from existing hospitals, there are also smaller medical centers available.

Rizal said that this is a new direction of psychiatric care in the country which focuses on community roles which he hopes may lower stigma against mental health patients.

“The responsibility of addressing these issues not only lie in the government but also we as the, non-governmental organizations, are providing complementary activities,” Rizal added.

Meanwhile, he said that it is expected that by 2030, Malaysia will be in the category of ageing nations with older persons constituting 15% of the population.

“In Malaysia, older persons are defined as those who are 60 years and above. Our average life expectancy is 72.3 years for male and 77.2 for female,” Rizal said.

He urged the local community to take a look at an emerging trend of maltreatment of ageing adults and address the issue of long-term care for older people.

Rizal remarked that mental health problems such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression are associated with the ageing group’s physical health.

Therefore, it is important to identify the earlier signs and symptoms and to take the necessary precautions against these mental health problems, he urged.

“Providing early identification and treatment of non-communicable diseases can contribute to better mental health among older adults,” he said.

He further noted that stress amongst the younger generation is on the rise, based on observation by the Sabah Mental Health Association.

Preventive measures can be encouraged in the young through leading a healthy lifestyle by having enough exercise, and avoiding smoking and alcohol, he said.

The public seminar with the theme of addressing mental health issues in older adults was presented by Dr Fred Toke, a psychotherapist from Singapore.

“Older people are expected and are able to make important contributions to society as family members, volunteers, and as active participants in the workforce.

“Nevertheless …asking older adults to provide support to communities and families must be complemented by additional support from society,” he said.

On this note, he said that this was the core business of Sabah Mental Health Association by running a daycare centre in Sembulan for elderly patients.

He said the day care services not only provides activities for psycho-social rehabilitation but also encourages activities that can generate income for the residents.