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MENTAL HEALTH: Do not generalise about hospital employees

Date: 20 March 2014

Letters to the Editor

By Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin, psychiatrist, Malaysian Integrated Medical Professionals Association

I REFER to "Mental Health: Treat mental patients with compassion" (NST, March 15). The link to the article is found
here.

I would like to clarify two issues raised by the author on the public perception of those with mental illness.

I believe the author wanted to address the topic of stigma, but has, however, inadvertently stigmatised our profession and also those in need of our care. The first item that requires clarification is regarding "hospital staff did not appear compassionate".

I will not deny that this may be the case, however, to generalise hospital employees (which refers to all doctors, nurses, pharmacist and others involved with their care) is incorrect.

In general, the Malaysian public, and even medical workers, have stigmatised mental health patients, but this is no longer as common as before.

A visit to many of our mental health facilities and talking to mental health workers, both in the government, university and private setting will dismiss this generalisation.

Second, the author states "perhaps we can prevent crimes committed by those who suffer from mental disorders".
This contradicts the writer's initial perception as he has stigmatised those with mental illness by suggesting that many cases of crime locally and abroad are the result of mental illness. This is not true. Indeed, there are certain mental illnesses which may be over-represented, however, the majority do not involve themselves with any criminal activity.

Although I laud the author's sincerity in assisting those of us in mental health to reduce stigma, I need to respond to ensure that the issues raised are not thought of as the "norm" in our profession and among our patients.

A resource in this regard is the Malaysian Medical Gazette, an online portal (endorsed by the Health Ministry) intended for the public to learn more about health conditions, including mental health.

There is an excellent article by my colleague, Dr Eugene Koh, on stigma.

This article was first published in www.nst.com.my on 20 March 2014.

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