Increase budget allocation for hospital-based psychiatric services, say reps


Dr Yii. – Photo by Roystein Emmor

KUCHING (April 5): Increasing the budget for hospital-based psychiatric services to 2.4 per cent of total national health budget in upcoming Budgets is one of the short-term recommendations put forward by Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii and two elected representatives.

In a joint statement yesterday, Dr Yii along with Subang Jaya assemblywoman Michelle Ng and Kampung Tunku assemblywoman Lim Yi Wei, proposed several recommendations moving forward following the tabling of the Bill to amend Section 309 of the Penal Code to decriminalise attempted suicide and strengthen the Mental Health Act 2021 (Act 615).

“Today’s tabling in Parliament is a first step. More has to be done, and thus we propose a few recommendations moving forward.

“Short-term recommendations would be to increase budget for hospital-based psychiatric services to 2.4 per cent of total national health budget in upcoming Budgets; to amend relevant clinical guidelines to ensure psychotherapy is introduced as a first line of treatment alongside pharmacotherapy; and to develop empathic guidelines and modules to train first responders on handling people with mental illnesses,” they said.

The trio also proposed three long-term recommendations, which are to establish multi-ministerial and multi-sectoral mechanisms on mental health; to systemically increase the number of mental health professionals per capita and improve distribution to address the urban-rural divide; and to improve national data and monitoring of mental health disorders.

“In doing so, we hope to implement reforms that are patient-centric and deliver better health outcomes for all,” they added.

They also pointed out that a moratorium on all prosecutions for suicide attempts is to be declared immediately, between this Parliamentary session and the next.

“Such fundamental reforms have been championed by mental health experts and activists for decades.

“Finally, we see this government having the much-needed political will to implement them amidst a growing silent mental health pandemic in Malaysia,” they said.

The statement was noted that the government’s 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) found that almost 500,000 Malaysians experienced symptoms of depression.

“The NHMS 2019 also found that 424,000 children were experiencing mental health problems. Covid-19 worsened things, with many facing joblessness, isolation, and difficulty in getting mental health aid as various movement control orders (MCOs) curtailed mobility. Existing patients saw psychiatric appointments delayed with wait times of three to six months.

“Even as Malaysia marks one year of the endemic phase, there are still people struggling. This is a reminder for the government: we may relax SOPs, but must pursue reform and resilience for the next major shocks that may come our way.”

The statement also highlighted relevant arguments for decriminalisation including reducing the at-risk individuals choosing violent, irreversible means of harming themselves to avoid prosecution should they survive; the need to convert stigma into understanding and providing treatment, and the need to address socio-economic inequalities that aggravate mental health distress.

“A new provision will be included in the Mental Health Act to empower first-responders attending to a suicide attempt scene to admit the person into a psychiatric hospital. First responders include the police, fire department, civil defence, maritime department and welfare officers.

“In doing so, our system ensures that persons who attempt suicide get the mental health support they need. It also frees first responders from legal liabilities that may arise from making an immediate judgement call, on the spot, on the person’s state of mental health, that may be better assessed by a mental healthcare professional,” the elected representatives added.