by Karen Bong
KUCHING, March 26: Sarawak needs to establish an integrated psychiatric nursing home considering that mental health is an increasingly widespread problem in society today.
According to the ‘National Health and Morbidity Survey: Adolescent Health’ conducted in 2017, a total of 10.1 per cent of secondary school students in Sarawak said that they had felt lonely or isolated “most of the time or always”.
The report also highlighted that the prevalence of being lonely and inability to sleep due to worry, among secondary school students in Sarawak, increased from 7.3 per cent and 5.2 per cent in 2012 to 10.1 per cent and 7.7 per cent in 2017.
The survey also noted worsening suicidal behaviours as compared to the prevalence in 2012. Suicidal ideation, planning and attempts increased from 7.5 per cent to 10.9 per cent, 6.0 per cent to 7.9 per cent, and 7.2 per cent to 8.8 per cent respectively.
Revealing these statistics, Minister of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah pointed out that Sarawak was ranked fourth in Malaysia, recording the highest number of mental health problems according to a survey in 2015.
“The survey found that one out of three Malaysians suffered some kind of mental health problem and 29.2 per cent of them were aged 16 years and above,” she told those present at the closing of the coordination workshop on Mental Health Issues held at a hotel here today.
The prevalence of depression problems in Sarawak, she said, was recorded among 35.8 per cent of those aged 16 and above, and 16 per cent were children under 15-years-old.
“This is particularly alarming as it involves young and career people which will certainly affect the productivity and economic development of the country indirectly,” she added.
Fatimah emphasised the need to discard the wrong beliefs that mental illness was caused by charms, evil spirits, weak character, divine punishment or weakness of faith.
The ministry, she stressed, viewed issues related to mental health seriously that must be addressed promptly because it was directly related to other social issues such as homelessness, drug and substance abuse, sexual crimes against children and women, marriage and divorce as well as domestic violence.
“The most significant issues were those involving homeless and neglected individuals by family and community due to their mental state of being which requires medical intervention,” she continued.
She said that there were several challenges that needed to be resolved to address the homelessness issue in a more effective and integrated manner.
“The most apparent is access to institutions to place homeless people who have been rescued either for short- or long-term. Anjung Singgah and Desa Bina Dire needs to be expanded to other regions in Sarawak besides Kuching,” she added.
As a way forward, she pointed out that the laws relating to this issue must also be relevant and not antagonistic to each other.
“For instance, a person with a history of mental health problems is not eligible to enter the rehab centre of Desa Bina Diri under the Destitute Persons Act (1977), while on the other hand, the said person cannot be detained at the Sentosa Hospital when he is already stable under the Mental Health Act (2011),” she elaborated.
The community, she said, needed to be more open to do away with stigma and perception that individuals with mental health disorders were ‘crazy’ because the disorders were organised into broad groups encompassing Neurosis (depression, anxiety), Psychosis (Schizophrenia, Manifold-Depressive Disorder) and personality disorders.
“Early intervention from pyschiatrists, doctors or counsellors should be obtained at the first signs of mental health disorders.
“Family members in particular, should be more attentive, caring and give support to the individuals with early symptoms of mental health disorders by ensuring that they are reffered to health facilities for further assessment and treatment,” she said.
From the aspect of treatment and rehabilitation, Fatimah added that all government hospitals and health clinics provide screening and intervention to assist those with mental health problems.
Sarawak has a total of 28 psychiatrists in which 22 of them were in government hospitals, three in private hospitals and three in Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
There are nine government hospitals that provide psychiatric services namely Hospital Sentosa, Sarawak General Hospital, Serian Hospital, Sri Aman Hospital, Sibu Hospital, Miri Hospital, Bintulu Hospital, Kapit Hospital and Limbang Hospital.
Meanwhile, the main objective of the workshop was to develop an Action Plan to address mental health issues in Sarawak.
The plan will include efforts to develop effective and functional Terms of Reference (TORs) for setting up governance to coordinate, monitor and address mental health issues at the state level; provide TORs for research on mental health in Sarawak to be conducted this year; document guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to address mental health issues in an integrated manner; and promote awareness, advocacy and social education on mental health to empower the community to provide basic psychological assistance during crisis.
“Addressing social issues like mental health is a collective responsibility and requires hollistic approaches. This collective responsibility and ‘care for Sarawak’ must cut across public and private sectors, political divides and civil societies for the sake of sustainable community well-being in Sarawak,” Fatimah said.
Permanent secretary to the Ministry Dr Sa’adiah Abdul Samat, Social Development Council executive secretary Dr Intan Rahmah Mohd Tazuddin, Sarawak Mental Health Association chairman Dr Ismail Drahman and National Anti-Drugs Agency Kuching deputy director Iskandar Turkee were among those present. — DayakDaily