PUTRAJAYA, September 28 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) is seeking to boost spending on mental health services in the upcoming budget, scheduled to be tabled in Parliament next Friday (October 7).
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the ministry will ask for a 2.5 per cent higher budget for mental health services in Budget 2023, a smaller increment from the 11 per cent increase seen in Budget 2022.
“Our budget for mental health services, which refers to mental health psychosocial, counselling, and support services, from 2021 to 2022, we increased it by about 11 per cent. We are asking for another 2.5 per cent increase for next year’s budget.
“All of this includes the payment of salary to our specialists and all the mental health workers. We are continuously asking for an increase in the mental health budget. So, 11 per cent in 2021 to 2022, another 2.5 per cent next year,” Khairy told reporters here today.
Malaysia reported 1,142 suicide cases in 2021, an 81 per cent increase from 631 cases in 2020, according to official police data. Khairy said the spike was a result of severe depression from chronic stress, loss of income, domestic violence, financial crisis, and unexpected deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government’s Psychosocial Support Helpline, which began in March 2020, also received 307,673 calls, of which 227,713 calls (74.3 per cent) requested for emotional support and counselling due to chronic stress, depression and anxiety during the pandemic.
A government proposal to decriminalise suicide remains under review, Khairy said, although a study carried out by the Attorney General’s Department had been completed.
Khairy said the results of the report are to be discussed with stakeholders, including the Home Affairs Ministry (KDN) and the police, before a revision to the Cabinet memorandum is made.
“In this session, we will discuss the results of the study that have been obtained by the AGC, and we will revise the Cabinet memorandum that we have prepared to be brought to the Cabinet meeting. Right now, we need to get the opinion of the police and KDN.
“When I first presented the memorandum, it looked like KDN did not fully agree. So, let’s see if they can be persuaded to support our suicide decriminalisation effort. Whether amendments will be made in the upcoming Parliament sitting depends on the Cabinet’s decision,” Khairy said.
Currently, under Section 309 of the Penal Code, attempted suicide can be punished with up to a year in jail, a fine, or both.
On the National Centre of Excellence for Mental Health (NCEMH), Khairy said the MOH is in its final steps of creating the NCEMH that will serve not only as a training and capacity-building centre but also as a referral centre for non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
NCEMH is a centre that aims to increase the quality of the nation’s mental health services through promotional, prevention, and intervention activities intended to increase literacy, reduce stigma and make mental health services more accessible.
“This centre will be the reference centre for all of you (NGOs). So, you will have a home within MOH. It is here that we will conduct training for community engagement, training for community health workers, and also training for volunteers from the NGOs.
“It will be easier for us to coordinate the assistance programmes that are conducted by your NGOs. We hope that, by the end of this year, God willing, we can open this centre at a temporary premise. What is important is not the premise. What is important is that the centre is up and running and can provide coordination for all the programmes that are carried out.”
Khairy earlier announced the distribution of funds amounting to RM6.2 million to 52 mental health NGOs as part of efforts to strengthen the country’s mental health and psychosocial support services.
Khairy said the responsibility of dealing with mental health issues across Malaysia should be borne by all, including the government, private sector, and NGOs.
MOH’s many partnerships with civil societies can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s, with MOH providing mental health services and NGOs primarily dealing with promotional and advocacy work.