Let’s talk about mental health, a step toward vanishing the stigma

By Nur Aina Fathihah

GOMBAK, 15 September 2021: A webinar on “Breaking the silence: Role of mental health advocacy and communications” held today had called on de-stigmatising of the mental health in the community.

The webinar, organised by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with IIUM, was divided into three main sessions.

A discussion in the third session featured three panelists – Dr. Nurashikin Ibrahim, a public and mental health specialist; Puan Nurul Mardiyya Roslan, a psychology officer (clinical psychologist), Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia (Department of Social Welfare Malaysia); and Prof. Dr. Alvin Ng Lai Oon, Associate Dean (Engagement and Internationalisation), School of Medical and Life Sciences at Sunway University.

It was moderated by Associate Prof. Dr. Wan Shahrazad Wan Sulaiman, the president of Malaysian Psychological Association.

Speaking on the topic, Dr. Nurashikin Ibrahim shared the statistics of mental health issues in Malaysia, the suicide cases, in particular, which showed a drastic increase of the cases from this year compared to last year, from the months of January to July.

This increase in suicide cases had been caused by many factors including the pandemic COVID-19 in which Malaysians had to bear with the second time of movement control order (MCO) that impacted them in many areas of life such as economic pressure and mental health although many people tend to see the economic issue as the main problem.

In addition, Prof. Dr. Alvin Ng Lai Oon stated that people refused to talk about mental health because the word “mental” had given them bad thoughts just by listening to it.

He said the community needs to realise the difference between mental health and mental illness because there is a huge difference in the meaning of these two lines. 

This showed that mental health awareness among the community is still lacking and the stigma is still on top of everything whenever mental health is concerned.

In response to a question pertaining to mental health services availability, Dr. Nurashikin pointed out several organisations, both government and non-government bodies, for people from all classes to reach out such as government and private hospitals, Pusat Kesihatan Mental Komuniti (MENTARI), university hospitals, clinics, Befrienders, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and KSK Care Centre (Jakim).

Also, people can book an appointment for psychological services and have the information on mental health through Mysejahtera app by clicking on the digital my health button and Minda Sihat icon, said Dr. Nurashikin.

Most of the services are free of charge especially for the B40 category so that they can have the proper mental health treatment too.

Puan Nurul Mardiyya Roslan added that Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia also provides psychological services to people which include counselling session, psycho-education, crisis management, assessment, psychological intervention, consultation, family rehabilitation, and guidance.

People may reach out to Talian Kasih to get the services needed, she said.

During the COVID-19, pandemic, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia had provided services for quarantined COVID-19 patients by giving them handouts, flyers, books, etc., at the quarantine stations but this service had decreased its activation due to the self-quarantine order, she added.

From the individual scope on how to reach out, Prof. Dr. Alvin Ng shared a tip on behavioural activation that comprises of fours steps – learn to realise, learn to manage stress, learn to solve problems, and practice a healthy habit.

“Research shows that behavioural activation helps people with psychiatric illnesses, but it should be kept as a practice and a daily routine,” said the professor.

From the tip given by the professor, the emphasis is on self-care regardless of everything else, as stated by Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli in the earlier session of the webinar, that “human being is responsible for their own destiny.”

Dr. Alvin added, “Be the one who teaches and shares with the community this tip that will ensure de-stigmatising of mental health issue in the society as well as get to empower the community to achieve the sense of well-being as a person.”

Apart from that, he stated that volunteerism activities have also proven to be a good method in increasing mental well-being, able to act as a psychological kit and a tool to combat the mental health stigma because it develops the volunteers’ sense of belonging.

Most people who suffer from mental illness had an issue either with the sense of belonging or the feeling of helpless or it can be both, said Prof. Dr. Alvin Ng.

That is the reason the encouragement to join volunteer programmes was made by both government and non-government bodies for all, especially students, not only to give a hand to raise awareness among the community, but also for the sake of the individual well-being.

Puan Nurul Mardiyya Roslan pointed out that Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia had provided platforms for psychological volunteerism activities for all including those who were not in psychiatric, psychology or counsellor backgrounds.

Thus, Dr. Alvin Ng had called on university students, in particular, to fulfil their semester break with volunteerism activities so that it will benefit themselves as well as others.

All the panelists shared the plan of their respective organisation towards increasing mental health awareness in the society. However, they highlighted on the need to have more manpower from various sectors and communities, as well as appropriate training be given to practitioners and community leaders regarding mental health first aid kit.

This is to ensure the success of the plans for people to achieve well-being and for all to have greater access to mental health services.

As stated by Dr. Alvin Ng, “basically we have everything, that is why we need more and more people to spread and work on it so that it can be a success.”

In conclusion, it was raised that the root of obstruction to greater access to mental health services is the stigma itself. The stigma factor has stopped people from seeking proper help for mental health and having the right knowledge about it.

Thus, as shared by Prof. Dr. Alvin Ng, “let’s talk and talk about mental health regardless of who we are” so that the stigma will be faded away little by little, and everyone can have access to the psychological services freely and they can achieve greater health for themselves. ***

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