(File pix) The Malaysia Psychiatric Association (MPA) patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye. Pix by Owee Ah Chun

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysia Psychiatric Association (MPA) has called for mental health treatment to be included in health insurance premiums.

MPA patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said such coverage is needed due to the worrying number of people suffering from mental health problems.

He said many of those suffering from mental health issue do not seek treatment due to financial barriers.

The MPA, Lee said, had proposed to the Health Ministry to engage with insurance companies as well associations in the country and find ways to incorporate mental healthcare and treatment in insurance plans.

“Unfortunately, health insurance premiums do not cover the cost of psychiatric services should you require them.

“There is also a limited supply of specialists, including behavioural professionals and psychiatrists.

“Much has been spoken about the matter but there has been no positive response so far. Hence, there is a need therefore to initiate discussion on the subject and such initiative should come from the Health Ministry,” Lee said in a statement today.

He said the inclusion of mental health treatment in insurance coverages was nothing new in the region.

He cited insurance company AIA, which launched Singapore’s first insurance policy offering coverage for mental illnesses early this year.

“Named ‘AIA Beyond Critical Care’, the plan covers these five conditions namely Major Depressive Disorders (MDD), Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Tourette Syndrome,” he said.

Apart from the ministry, Lee also called on all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) related to the issue to formulate a joint memorandum to the minister and insurance associations explaining in detail the rationale of providing insurance coverage for mental health patients.

“Malaysians with mental health problems must also come forward and stand up for their rights for insurance coverage for mental health just like physical health.”

Lee said the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2017 on mental health among youths showed that one out of five adolescents feels depressed, while two out of five feel anxious with 11.2 per cent of them having suicidal ideation. A total 10.1 per cent of the adolescents had attempted suicide, according to the survey.

More worryingly, he said, the problem also involved students because the ratio of students who had mental problems increased from one in every 10 students in 2011 to one in five in 2016.

Lee said the National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted two years earlier revealed that about 4.2 million Malaysians, aged 16 and above, or 29.2 per cent of the country's population, suffered from various mental problems. This was an increase of 11.2 per cent compared to 2006.

Lee, however, acknowledged that the Health Ministry had been supportive through its efforts in improving the mental health assessment system in the country.

“Nevertheless, more improvements are required mainly through a collaborative effort among the communities as well as governmental and NGOs.

“It is important to know that early diagnosis and treatment greatly increases the chances of individuals affected by mental illness to regain a reasonable state of health and well-being and satisfying quality of life.”