Mental Health Landscape

In Malaysia, mental health issues are a rising problem. Ten years ago, ten percent of the population has mental illness. Today, that number has increased to thirty percent.

However until now, there are not many personal stories about mental illness in mainstream media, hence mental issues are still relatively unknown despite its rising numbers.

Additionally, mental health for children is rather neglected. Current statistics put the number of children with mental health issues at 12 percent with the actual number be much more than represented.

Furthermore, the ratio of mental healthcare professionals to the population is very small. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a ratio of 1: 100 000. Since our population is 30 000 000, the number of psychiatrists needed is 300. Currently, we have a ratio of 1: 200 000, only half the recommended number. In addition, most psychiatrists work for the Ministry of Health, or at public universities and private universities. It is clear that there is a need for more psychiatrists in the clinical setting instead of teaching or research.

To complicate the problem further, mental health illness is not covered by insurance. This makes it harder for those coming from poorer backgrounds to seek help. Although mental health services are available in government institutions, psychiatric units, psychiatric clinics and NGO’s, most people are not aware of where to find help.

Dr. Ng Chong Guan shared that some patients come all the way from Sandakan to his clinic in Kuala Lumpur. Further exacerbating the problem, the accident and emergency (A&E) department in most hospitals tend to be packed with patients seeking the doctor’s help for small ailments. As a result, those with mental illnesses have to wait a long time to see the doctor. This can be dangerous, especially in times of emergency.

In the face of all these issues, Dr. Ng encouraged the media and the public to help make up for the inadequate resources for mental health issues. Calling the movement a “population approach”, he said that the media should educate, empower and enable the public to help themselves if they are faced with mental health issues.

Firstly, to educate the public, Dr. Ng suggested that the media publish more articles on mental health to increase mental health literacy. Eventually, the public can help themselves by setting up community mental health centres or psychiatric nursing homes. This will in turn, enable those who need mental health service to get the help they need. However, there’s still one major setback in achieving the second part of the plan that is only psychiatrists can open a clinic.

Dr. Ng mentioned that in Malaysia, the ruling is such that even if one is a highly qualified clinical psychologist or a psychiatric nurse, they cannot open a clinic simply because they are not psychiatrists. As such, the the burden of care falls entirely on psychiatrists.