(File pix) Malaysian Mental Health Advisory Council member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said at present, there are merely 360 registered psychiatrists in both the public and private sectors of the country. Pix by Edmund Samunting

KUALA LUMPUR: The ratio of psychiatrists to the Malaysian population is 1:200,000 – a figure far below the 1:10,000 recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Malaysian Mental Health Advisory Council member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said at present, there are merely 360 registered psychiatrists in both the public and private sectors of the country.

“The shortage of competent experts is an alarming issue that needs to be addressed in dealing with mental health problems.

“There is a worrying trend with mental health problems among students, with the figures rising from one in 10 individuals in 2011, to one in five in 2016,” he said in a statement today.

Lee said this is an almost three-fold increase, and mental illness is expected to be the second-biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart diseases by 2020.

He urged the government to find ways to encourage more doctors to specialise in the psychiatric field, as about 3,000 psychiatrists are needed in order to achieve the ratio set by the world body.

Lee quoted a report by the 2015 National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS) which revealed that 4.2 million Malaysians aged 16 and above (or 29.2 per cent of the population) are struggling with mental health issues, up from 11.2 per cent in 2006.

He said for Malaysia to be a developed and high-income nation, the people must not lose sight of the importance of sound mental health development – and addressing the issue should be a priority.

Lee added that experts have cited anxiety and depression as the main causes of mental health problems among students.

“Other contributing factors include family problems, physical and cyber-bullying and stress when it comes to their studies due to pressure from parents and teachers.

“We cannot deny the fact that stress is weighing down many youngsters and there is a rising level of suicidal tendency.

“Suicidal and self-harming behaviour are extremely worrying, as it was reported that 27 per cent of the 21,256 people who contacted Befrienders Kuala Lumpur last year had mentioned suicide,” he said.

Lee said mental health is a very much misunderstood issue with many associating it with “madness.”

“We should not simply dismiss the mentally ill as ‘gila’ and family members and friends must always give full support to them.

“The government must also put in greater effort to de-stigmatise mental illness, and I believe that the community-based approach should be expanded further to help overcome the problem,” he added.

Lee said community-based care is the more amenable approach compared to institutional care, because it allows patients to stay within his or her support system.

Instead of staying in a ward, Lee said the community should also include the patients in their daily activities, making it a much healthier option.

At workplaces, employers should also ensure that offices are both physically and mentally healthy for all employees, he added.

“Stress, depression or anxiety of employees, if not managed well, would be costly to the workers and organisation.

“Work-related stress is a key issue of concern in the country and those suffering from poor mental health must seek guidance or medical attention,” said Lee.

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