Dr Toh Chin Lee
Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians need to tackle mental health issues head on and overcome the stigma that is attached to the illness.

Deputy director-general of health (public health) Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said the fear of being labelled “mentally ill” had long been the bane of encouraging those suffering from the disease to seek treatment.

“This is the reason why many cases of mental illness have gone undiagnosed and unreported. We need to address the stigma so that the issue can be addressed effectively,” he told the New Straits Times.

Dr Lokman said there were many cases where patients tried to conceal their condition.

“Some fear being rejected by their community. Many more fear losing the love and respect of their family members and loved ones, even losing custody of their children.

“Even those who are employed will hide their condition for fear of being labelled as incompetent,” he said, adding that people should, instead, play a role in promoting good mental health and encouraging those affected to seek help.

Families and those closest to the mental health patients, he said, must take the lead in identifying early depressive symptoms at home.

“Parents need to develop good communications skills to provide emotional and psychosocial support to their children.

“The caregivers must also ensure that patients take their medication to prevent a relapse of illness and develop good coping skills.”

Dr Lokman pointed out the repercussions if the condition was left untreated.

“There will be increased burden to caregivers, marital discords, physical impairments, and disability and poor productivity, which can lead to the patient being terminated from employment.”

The ministry’s psychiatry services technical adviser Dr Toh Chin Lee said mental patients could be given pharmacological therapy, such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs.

“In addition, they can also be given non-pharmacological therapy, such as counselling, supportive therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychosocial intervention, family support, patient education and supported employment.”

The ministry’s mental health unit head and public health specialist Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim called on the media to play a prominent role in promoting mental health.

The media could help the public understand and detect early signs of mental disorders. Employers, she said, also needed to promote a healthy working environment.

A good support system must also be made available in schools so that early signs of mental health issues could be addressed effectively among students.

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