PUTRAJAYA: The nation requires at least 900 more psychiatrists in its public healthcare system to meet international standards on mental health.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said currently, there was one psychiatrist for every 150,000 people in the country, when the international recommended minimum was at least one for every 50,000 people.

The ministry is now looking into alternative measures to address the shortage, including providing training to medical doctors.

“We have not set a specific deadline to meet the number of specialists needed, but it is important that we fulfil the requirement as soon as possible,” Dr Subramaniam said at the launch of the Asean-level Mental Health Campaign 2014 at Putrajaya Wetlands here yesterday.

He said some 450 million people worldwide suffered from mental health issues, of which 360,000 were Malaysians.

The campaign was aimed at increasing awareness among Asean nations on the importance of mental health, and to encourage member countries to participate in the prevention of mental disorders.

The ministry, which conducted the National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS), reported that prevalence of psychiatric morbidity among Malaysian adults had increased from 10.6 per cent in 1996 to 11.2 per cent in 2006.

The same study conducted in 2011 found that prevalence of depression among adults stood at 1.8 per cent of the population, which was approximately 340,000 people.

The NHMS findings also showed a marked increase in the prevalence of psychiatric morbidity among children and adolescents aged between 5 and 15 years, which had increased from 13 per cent (1996) to 19.3 per cent (2006).

The figure involving children rose to 20 per cent in 2011.

“We estimate that every one out of five children (in the age group) are under duress.

“And this is a major cause for concern because it involves young people who are at a critical, growing age,” Subramaniam said.

“If they are already under stress at this age, then their adult years will prove to be even greater challenges for them.”