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Malaysians must first stop seeing mental illness as a stigma in order to help reduce the ailment . - FILE PIC

MALAYSIA’s mental health numbers are depressing.

Some 29.9 per cent or 4.2 million of Malaysians above 16 years of age suffer from some form of mental illness, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015, the latest figures available.

The survey points to a two-fold increase in the number of mental patients over the last decade. The study narrows the cause to a few factors: financial difficulties, failure to meet expectations and pressure from surrounding environment.

This problem needs immediate attention, otherwise it will be disastrous for not only the victims but also those around them. The New Straits Times has, in the distant and recent past, brought Malaysians’ mental wellbeing to national attention through news reports, commentaries and Leaders.

Given the not-insignificant number of Malaysians affected, we consider it our duty to raise it again. If we are to tackle mental illness as an issue, we must first recognise it as a problem. Herein lies the crux of the issue.

Malaysians do not want to accept the fact that they are suffering from mental illness.

Malaysians, it seems, are afraid of the stigma of mental illness. They rather suffer in silence than admit it. Such a course of action will lead to disastrous consequences for the victim and his loved ones.

Medical professionals say mental disorder such as depression can be easily treated. There are 958 government clinics throughout the country that are ready, able and willing to screen patients and recommend intervention programmes.

But first Malaysians must leave their stigma behind. Stigma delays treatment, and delayed treatment means disaster for everyone.

There are some red flags that one must keep a lookout for: prolonged melancholic mood, inability to concentrate, excessive fear and similar ailments. We, as a society, too, need to develop love for our fellow human beings.

Discrimination of some form or another, bullying and other forms of abuse can drive people into depression. Girls and young lads become easy victims of such abuse.

These young ones seek the social media for a space to share ideas and thoughts with others, but all they get is cruel violence. Studies show that children who suffer some form of abuse or violence grow up having suicidal tendencies later in their lives. This we must acknowledge, and discard.

Statistics on death from mental illness are hard to come by, but we cannot deny that there is someone, somewhere dying of mental illness.

We cannot deny, too, the good fight the Health Ministry and its medical officers are putting up against this creeping ailment. But more funds would be welcome given the fact that there are only 360 psychiatrists to treat 4.2 million Malaysians suffering from mental illness.

This puts Malaysia’s ratio at a dismal 0.83 to 100,000 of the population. In developed countries, the ratio is a healthy 6.6 psychiatrists to 100,000 people.

This Malaysia must endeavour to achieve if it wants to win the fight against mental illness. Mental wellbeing is more than an option.

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