KUALA LUMPUR: If you see someone struggling with alcoholism or eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, would you say that person has mental health issues?
Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare Sdn Bhd (RSDH) chief executive officer Bronte Kumm posed this intriguing question and explained that these were symptoms of poor coping skills of mental stress.
In an interview with Business Times recently, he said mental health was a lot more broad-based than ordinary folks tended to assume.
“We’re all for evidence-based early intervention that would help ease those suffering in silence. Unfortunately, many who are in need of professional help are not getting therapy due to the costs,” he said.
Kumm acknowledged that mental health issues were not easy to spot and often treated lightly.
“A person who broke his leg would be sent to the hospital but one who is jilted or traumatised over the death of loved ones is often told, ‘you’ll get over it. Time will heal your broken heart’.”
The fact is, emotional injury is as real as a broken leg even though there is no sling or plaster cast to show for it.
In taking the cue of healthcare development in Australia, Kumm suggested that insurance companies in Malaysia consider including mental health treatment in their medical policies.
Kumm said this would be a step in the right direction following a recent government survey that revealed one in three Malaysians grappled with mental health issues.
“The prevalence of mental health problem is highest among teenagers and low-income earners,” said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam recently.
Last year, he said 425 people ended their lives, with hanging being the most common method. Many of the suicide cases were triggered by severe emotional and work stress.
Financial crisis, unemployment, marital problems, drug abuse and surrounding factors could have contributed to the twofold jump in mental cases in Malaysia over the last 10 years.
Also present at the interview was Dr Daniel Heredia, a key personnel of Australia’s Ramsay Group, who was here to participate in the Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare Specialist Conference that gathered doctors from Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia to exchange clinical expertise.
Dr Heredia, who worked in psychiatry before moving into management, is medical director of Perth-based Hollywood Private Hospital, which is Ramsay Group’s largest hospital with 738 beds.
The hospital has more than 700 accredited specialists and admits 70,000 patients per year.
Dr Heredia said Ramsay Group was at the forefront of championing emotional resilience and mental wellbeing.
Attached to the hospital is the Hollywood Clinic which is staffed by clinical psychologists, registered mental health nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, art therapists, physiotherapists and dieticians.
Dr Heredia said mental wellness counselling at Ramsay Group was wide-ranging and included anxiety management, trauma recovery, mindful meditation, and music and art therapy.
Every year, the Ramsay Group promotes Australia’s “R U OK? Day” which seeks to raise public awareness of suicide prevention and early intervention in schools, universities and workplaces.
Last month, Dr Heredia said his hospital organised a cooking competition among staff members as a practical example of “people caring for people” in action.
In a separate interview, Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) president Datuk Dr Jacob Thomas concurred with RSDH’s suggestion for medical insurance coverage to include mental health.
“At APHM, we support the proposal that employers and insurance companies consider extending medical coverage to mental wellbeing,” he said.
Dr Jacob said the World Health Organisation defined health in a broader sense as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
He noted that untreated mental conditions could lead to a loss in productivity, poor sleeping habits and withdrawal from social situations.
At their worst, sufferers may resort to suicide to end the pain of emotional trauma brought on by intense shame and chronic loneliness.
Dr Jacob said people who lived with mental illnesses were often terrified to disclose their condition to friends at the college or office for fear of being discriminated and stigmatised.
The old adage that prevention is better than cure rings true when it comes to good mental health.
“We have dentists visiting schools. It is time we introduced visiting therapists, too, in the hope of preventing suicides due to accumulated stress among students and teachers. A little bit of empathy can go a long way. At APHM, we strongly recommend employers to regularly host mindful awareness programmes for their staff and have yearly medical check-ups that lead to good mental wellbeing,” he added.