Mental Health: It's nothing to be ashamed of
Date: 23 July 2009
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Kuala Lumpur
According to Health Ministry statistics, 400,227 mental patients sought treatment in government hospitals last year - an increase of 15.6 per cent over the 346,196 people who sought treatment in 2007.
According to the third National Health and Morbidity survey in 2006, more teenagers were suffering from mental health problems.
The survey also showed that 19.5 per cent of the older age group (between 70 and 74 years) and 14.4 per cent of the youngest (between 16 and 19 years) were more prone to having mental health problems than the other age groups.
Mental illness was also more prevalent among females (12.1 per cent compared with 10.4 per cent for males).
Mental illness also leads to the increasing suicide rate worldwide with one death every 40 seconds.
In Malaysia, the suicide rate has increased to between nine and 12 persons per 100,000 population compared with eight in the 1980s.
(The rate among Indians was alarming, at between 30 and 35 persons per 100,000 people.) The increase in stress levels and complex social responsibilities are among factors causing more people to develop mental disorders.
Excess stress and pressure could seriously affect our mental health and our daily life.
Sensible lifestyle and work attitudes are therefore necessary to cope with these challenges.
For example, work stress should not be taken lightly.
Such stress affects our physical and emotional health, which will in turn affect others at home.
The consequences are many.
Psychiatric disorders and other forms of mental illness are tragic reminders of another side of life which must not be overlooked in our quest to become a fully industrialised nation.
The impact of mental illness on the family and society is enormous in terms of loss of productivity, legal problems and economic costs.
Direct costs of mental disorders are high but indirect costs are estimated to be much higher than the direct costs to society.
There are many forms of mental illnesses which differ in severity, duration and degree.
But most mental illnesses can be treated so that reasonable state of health can be maintained.
Like physical illness, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
Promoting mental health requires joint efforts between the government and relevant non-governmental organisations.
A comprehensive community mental health programme is, therefore, needed to encourage the community to be better informed about mental health issues and how they can play an effective role in promoting mental health and helping the mentally ill.
In Malaysia, we need to do more for those who suffer from mental illness.
On the welfare services front, the government should include the mentally ill as disabled persons.
They should be accorded special privileges in employment to help them return to society and not be a burden to society.
There should be less stigma attached to those with mental health disorders.
Reference to "crazy" and "insane" people should be discouraged.
We should also put a stop to all forms of discrimination against the mentally ill.
In accordance with the United Nations Resolution 46/119 passed in December 1991, "every person has the right to live and work, to the extent possible, in the community".
This article was first published in www.nst.com.my on 9 July 2009.
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