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15 October 2019
According to the 2015 National Health Morbidity Survey, mental health conditions or mental illnesses are slated to become the second biggest illness, after heart disease, affecting Malaysians come 2020. Despite what many may think, most people who suffer from mental health conditions tend to recover, or are able to live with and manage them, especially if they get help early on.
However, the journey of a person suffering from mental illness is not an easy one especially when there are many strong social stigmas attached to the condition. Often they experience discrimination in all aspects of their lives, which causes them to feel ashamed for something that’s out of their control. Worst of all, the stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need.
For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.
Although TV shows and movies have been doing a better job over the past few years in the accuracy of their depiction of mental health conditions
not all of them hit the mark. This remains a concern because it's dangerous for fictional stories to misrepresent the realities of mental health. Negative portrayals can contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness, making those who need it less likely to seek help.
In many instances, TV shows and movies do not present mental conditions in a positive, or even sympathetic, light. In fact, characters with mental illness were often depicted as peculiar and dangerous. It is convenient to say the villain commits crimes because he or she is "crazy" without going into a nuanced explanation of mental health at all. In some other instances, mental health problems are glorified which could have a profound influence on people.
Much of the stigma we have towards mental health problems here in Asia stems from our cultural backgrounds, which are mostly dominated by religious or spiritual explanations. Many families, especially those in the rural communities still relate mental health problems with demon possession, divine punishment, sickness of the soul and others.
Rather than being viewed as a scientifically proven disorder, mental illness is commonly viewed as a supernatural phenomenon. This tends to push those who suffer from mental illness to seek help from mediums and healers that might in fact worsen the situation.
Another stigma that’s prevalent in our side of the world is the belief that only weak people succumb to mental issues. This stigma is so prevalent that it prevents those afflicted by it from getting the help they need. Those suffering from mental illness tend to be labeled as crazy, weak, over-sensitive, lacking in faith as well as over-dramatic.
Although some are resilient enough to ignore naysayers and proceed with getting the help they need, others succumb to social pressure and end up struggling with the symptoms alone. In fact the International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, reported in an article highlighting the issues and challenges of mental health in Malaysia wrote that that more than 50% of Malaysians believe that when it comes to mental illness, the sufferer is to blame for their condition, while about 80% believe that there’s “no such thing as mental health problems”.
While the cost of private psychiatric services may be expensive, there are numerous ways in which one can explore to help with one’s mental health problems without burning a hole in the pocket. Malaysia has various emotional support hotlines that you could contact should you feel the need to talk to someone. Befrienders is a good starting point as it is open 24/7 and recently went toll free thanks to the efforts by Malaysian government and several telecommunication groups. The Women’s Aid Organisation is a hotline you can call if you’re in a domestic situation that is unhealthy or can cause you harm. The Malaysian Mental Health Association also provides support via their phone line on any mental health issues. They have qualified mental health professionals that provide psychological support services and financial subsidies are readily available to ensure that necessary therapy and support is given to anyone who needs it.
Another affordable options for professional mental health treatments is by going to a government hospital. Most government institutions require a referral from a general practitioner doctor before you can set an appointment but some places, like the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), accepts walk-ins. The initial cost for registering as a new patient at UMMC is RM30, with all subsequent sessions with the psychiatrist at RM15 per session. Cost for other government hospitals varies starting from RM5 for consultation with the psychiatrist.
So how do we overcome the stigma of mental illness? To start off, mental health professionals and the government need to strive to provide services that will best engage and treat all patients, especially young adults (of whom have the highest rate of those suffering from mental illness).
Eliminating barriers is an important step for our society to progress towards a mental health stigma free community. Discussions and engagements regarding mental health awareness needs to be done more openly rather than whispering about it that might have precipitate it as a taboo or an embarrassing topic to share. Nothing about mental health should be humiliating, so do not be afraid to talk about it openly.
Employers also have a hand to play in addressing mental health issues in the workplace. As more and more insurance companies start to offer mental health coverage in their products, the government has been urging employers to incorporate it into health schemes for their staff. According to the findings of the Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality 2018 survey, mental issues have increasingly affect Malaysian employees over the years, which can lead to staff absences and turnover which in turn negatively impact the productivity and performance of the company.
The findings demonstrate that 50.2% of employees have at least one dimension of work-related stress. Efforts such as ensuring proper work/life balance, organizing mental health talks, offering free screening and financially supporting mental health treatments are some ways many corporations around the world are slowly starting to get on addressing mental health in the workplace.
The above articles are intended for informational purposes only. AIA accepts no responsibility for loss, which may arise from reliance on information contained in the articles.