KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — Malaysia only has 204 psychiatrists working in government facilities, as the Ministry of Health (MOH) seeks to hire additional contract psychologists to tackle coronavirus-related mental conditions.
According to medical students’ group, the Malaysian Medics International (MMI), Malaysia should ideally have 3,000 psychiatrists evenly distributed across the country, noting that the country only had 410 registered psychiatrists as at July 2018, with half attached to MOH facilities and the other half working in the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Defence, as well as private universities and clinical practice.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba told the Dewan Negara that MOH provides mental health services in four mental institutions, 66 MOH hospitals, 1,001 public health clinics (Klinik Kesihatan), and 28 Community Mental Healthcare Centres (MENTARI), with 204 psychiatrists, 148 psychology officers, and 30 clinical psychology officers.
“MOH is taking the initiative to request for additional contract psychology officers, who will be placed at the district level throughout Malaysia, in line with increasing needs during the Movement Control Order (MCO) due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Adham said in a written parliamentary reply on September 2 to Senator Susan Chemerai Anding.
The health minister cited MOH’s 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) that found that 2.3 per cent of the Malaysian population aged 16 years old and above experienced depression.
The government has established MENTARI clinics in Malaysia since 2011 to improve access to mental health services. There are 22 MENTARI clinics nationwide, with at least one in each state, according to MMI that said the shortage of mental health professionals is particularly acute in rural states, like Sabah and Kedah.
According to MMI, Malaysia only has a national average of 1.27 psychiatrists per 100,000 population. In contrast, the recommended standard ratio is one psychiatrist per 10,000 people.
Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day today, the Malaysian Health Coalition urged the government to decriminalise suicide by repealing Section 309 of the Penal Code that punishes suicide attempts.
The group of health advocates also called for adequate psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and trained counsellors at public hospitals and clinics across the country.
MOH tweeted Dr Adham as saying in a speech today that the government was looking at decriminalising suicide attempts so that people with depression or who have attempted suicide will come forward for help.
MOH also said the number of suicide survivors receiving treatment at MOH hospitals has declined to 465 cases from January to June this year, compared to 675 cases in the same period in 2019.
Senator Chemerai Anding had asked MOH to state its strategic planning to eliminate stigma related to mental illness among the community in the country and actions to improve community involvement in promoting mental health.
According to the health minister, MOH has incorporated mental health awareness elements in the KOSPEN (Komuniti Sihat Pembina Negara) programme by promoting mental health and preventing mental illness through coping skills training and community empowerment activities, including the workplace, through the KOSPEN PLUS programme.
“Stigma and misunderstanding in society have become one of the biggest obstacles for someone who has a mental illness to seek much needed professional help, in line with research,” said Dr Adham.
In his September 2 parliamentary reply, Dr Adham also listed MOH’s initiatives in promoting mental health awareness in the community as below:
- Mental health awareness activities and healthy lifestyle campaigns focusing on dealing with stress and the importance of seeking treatment if the problem persists. Conducting mental health promotion activities, including health camps, exhibitions, talks, dialogue sessions, and forums at the community level for all, regardless of age and psycho-economic background.
- MOH has also launched a national awareness campaign called “Let’s TALK Minda Sihat – #letstalkmindasihat” to build awareness and overcome mental health stigma. This campaign also involved several government agencies, as well as non-government organisations (NGOs), that will collaborate to carry out nationwide mental health awareness activities such as:
Let’s TALK Minda Sihat
T – Tell someone you trust about your problems
A – Ask for help
L – Listen without judgment
K – Know where to seek help