Close to half a million people in Malaysia are found to be experiencing symptoms of depression, according to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2019).
The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said NHMS 2019 also found that 424,000 children were experiencing mental health problems.
“Half of all mental disorders begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s. Therefore, this needs to be addressed urgently,” he said in a statement in conjunction with the World Health Day 2020, today.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic and Movement Control Order (MCO) have also caused emotional distress to many, following the change in working environment (having to work from home), while others have lost income and even jobs and fear for their safety.
“There are also those struggling with suicidal thoughts. The Health Ministry (MOH) recorded 465 attempted suicide cases between January and June this year,” he added.
Lee said while the situation has improved with the implementation of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), statistics from The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur shows otherwise with more contacts received from those in distress and feeling suicidal in the months of July, August and September compared to April, May and June.
Therefore, he said the government and MOH needs to allocate more funding for mental healthcare. Under the 2020 Budget, only RM344.82 million was allocated to mental healthcare which is slightly more than one per cent of the total budget for healthcare, this was lower than the international average 2.8 per cent.
Apart from funding, he said efforts need to be taken to increase the number of mental health professionals in the country such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, so that the access to cost-effective treatment will be easier for those who need it.
“Data from 2018 shows that there were 410 psychiatrists in our country with a national average of 1.27 psychiatrists per 100,000 population. This is much lower than the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommended ratio of one psychiatrist per 10,000 population,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lee also encouraged the Education Ministry to look into injecting aspects of mental health into the education syllabus including building resilience, learning about stress management and problem- solving skills.
Besides, he said parents need to play an important role in providing a loving and encouraging environment for children to grow up feeling safe to express their feelings and talk about their mental health openly.
“Everyone can contribute to the betterment of mental health. Start with self-care practices such as healthy eating, daily exercising as well as getting adequate sleep every night,” he added.