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(From left) Dr Jerusha, Dr Dzulkefly, Dr Ng and Dr Hazli at the launch of the Mental Health handbook.

A new handbook on mental health is invaluable to patients and their caregivers, friends and families, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan.

\WHILE conversations about mental health are now growing, mental health literacy in society remains low.

This is worrying because a small online survey conducted by the Malaysian Psychiatric Association (MPA) shows that about half the respondents prefer talking to friends about their mental health issues. Internet search is ranked second.

Among the youth, 65 per cent will likely use a smartphone app to seek information on mental health.

To improve mental health literacy in society and increase access to mental health knowledge and resources, the MPA, Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) and Pfizer Malaysia have launched a new Mental Health Handbook to help Malaysians recognise symptoms of mental health and seek professional help.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad says mental health literacy is crucial to help identify warning signs and symptoms and treat and manage mental disorders.

“Mental health problems affect one in three Malaysians (according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015) and knowledge for the community is one of the most important steps to promote greater understanding of mental health.

“The handbook provides invaluable and credible information to help Malaysians deal with mental health issues,” he says.

PRACTICAL COMPANION

Written for easy-reading and supplemented with visuals, this practical 48-page handbook is curated in a concise format with sections on four mental disorders — depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia.

There is information on how to reach out to someone with mental health issues, steps to manage one’s mental wellbeing and a directory of mental health services in Malaysia.

The handbook will be distributed to universities, patients and communities in digital format.

“Understanding the barriers to help-seeking methods among Malaysians is an important step towards facilitating access to mental health services and improving psychological wellbeing,” says MPA president Dr Hazli Zakaria.

“It is important to know that mental illness is treatable. Mental disorders encompass a broad range of problems with different symptoms. One of the key chapters in the handbook discusses how to recognise early signs and symptoms of mental illness and when to seek help,” he adds.

FEAR OF DISCRIMINATION

Those who took part in the survey are also worried about mental health stigma and being discriminated for seeking help.

More than eight out of 10 respondents are worried that seeking mental health care may affect their career prospects, while one in two are deeply concerned about negative reactions from family and friends. More than two thirds say they are embarrassed to seek help.

MMHA deputy president associate professor Dr Ng Chong Guan says it’s important to educate college and university students on how to identify signs and symptoms of mental disorders and offer help.

“It is also vital to build positive mental wellbeing and emotional resilience in adolescents and equip them with effective coping techniques to deal with daily challenges and mental stress,” he says.

He also points out that early intervention is crucial as NHMS 2017 reported that suicidal thoughts among teenagers aged 13 to 17 have increased from 7.9 per cent in 2012 to 10 per cent in 2017.

Pfizer Malaysia country medical director Dr Jerusha Naidoo says families, friends and colleagues are often the first responders to someone suffering from mental illness.

“We must equip individuals and communities with the right knowledge, skills and support to start a conversation with those struggling with mental illness,” she says.

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