MIRI: Mental health remains a major problem in Malaysia with more people suffering from emotional stress and mental distress and yet many don’t seek medical treatment for fear of social stigma.
Psychiatrist and Consultant Geriatic at Sarawak General Hospital Dr Ismail Drahman said the 2011 National Health and Morbidity Survey showed that 12 per cent of Malaysians aged between 18 and 60 were suffering from some forms of mental illness.
“The ratio of 1:10 adults are suffering from mental illness and the incidence among children is even higher at 1:5. Even the WHO (World Health Organisation) also predicts that it is going to be major problem escalating from fourth to second major problem affecting families,” he told reporters yesterday after delivering a keynote address at the Miri Inaugural Mental Health Conference held at Curtin University, Sarawak Campus here.
SGH Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Selvasingam Ratnasingam, Curtin Sarawak chief operating officer Kingsley Francis Charles and Dean of Student Affairs and chairman of Mental Health Association Miri Dr Adeline Wong and Psychologist and registered counsellor of Miri General Hospital Mas Jali were also present.
Dr Ismail added that unless integrated approach was made, the problem could worsen especially now that children were even more stressful compared to decades before, now that children including babies having to wake up early to be sent to their nannies or childcare centres by their working parents.
Earlier in his keynote address on a paper entitled ‘Mental Health Literacy’, Dr Ismail said comparatively people with mental illness in Malaysia and other non-western countries were reluctant to seek medical treatment or even tell their family members and friends that they were suffering from the illness.
In Western countries patients seek support from families and friends, engage in pleasurable activities, take up new activities and physical exercise. In mild depression they even consume herb – St John’s wart.
“In non western countries including in Malaysia, they seek traditional healers…. early beliefs dominated by religious/spiritual explanation like demon possession/supernatural causes,” he said, adding that late medical treatment could cause them to suffer unnecessarily as mental problem could be associated with virus in the brain.
Thus all strata of society from the patients, families, non-governmental organisations and the authorities need to seriously find solutions to problem on mental illness.
Currently, he said community and policy makers still looked at mental health with low regards compared to other illness like cancer and AIDS.
This resulted in people with mental health problems not wanting to acknowledge their problem, reluctant to seek help out of shame, endure unnecessary suffering, lose out on life’s potential due to delay in or not seeking treatment and help.
Dr Ismail urged the public to change their perception towards mental illness adding that any drastic change in individual behaviour or continuous deteriorating in productivity or performance should be viewed seriously.
They should not be ashamed of seeking early medical treatment and or even sharing their problems with families and friends.