Despite Acute Shortage, Few Jobs For Psychology Graduates In Malaysia

Goh See Hua, who is contesting Pasir Pinji, ended up entering politics when he couldn’t find jobs in the field of psychology after graduation, says Ipoh Timor candidate Howard Lee.

IPOH, Nov 17 – Rising demand for mental health services in Malaysia does not seem to translate into more job opportunities for psychology graduates, says Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) Ipoh Timor candidate Howard Lee Chuan How.

Lee, a former two-term Pasir Pinji assemblyman, said that the potential replacement representative for his previous state seat, PH candidate Goh See Hua, is a psychology graduate who couldn’t get jobs in the field.

“It’s because there are not enough roles in that industry – psychological care, psychiatric care – in the pool, both public and private.

“And that’s how he ended up working for the former MP of Kampar, the former ADUN (state assemblyman) for Kepayang, former ADUN or the incumbent ADUN for Sungai Siput, and now he’s going to be, hopefully, an elected official for himself,” Lee, a DAP central executive committee member, told CodeBlue in an interview here Monday.

Mental health care providers previously talked about having more trained therapists and counsellors in public hospitals to cope with overwhelming demand for mental health services, as more Malaysians struggled with anxiety and depression during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Malaysian Medics International (MMI), Malaysia should ideally have 3,000 psychiatrists evenly distributed across the country, based on recommendations by the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization of 1 psychiatrist to 10,000 population. However, there were only 479 registered psychiatrists in Malaysia as of February 2022, six times less than the recommended figure.

Lee said there are many trained mental health care professionals who find themselves excluded from the industry for both “active and passive” reasons.

“When I say passive reasons, it means there aren’t many advertised jobs for it. Active reasons being they find themselves being able to find jobs elsewhere that is more attractive than being in their own trained field.

“So I personally know at least, out of the top of my head, six or seven other such individuals. We’ve got, you know, a psychology major at undergrad level, started a master’s, but didn’t complete in psychology as well, psychiatric care, actually, who’s now a multi-level marketing professional who makes a lot of money from that.

“So, you know, I personally have taken an interest in certain psychological disciplines like NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) training, which is very pop culture psychology, for which I would be shot dead if I say that’s part of psychology and psychiatry, but I’ve done some engagement and have some degree of understanding of the industry.

“It’s a very narrow – I don’t even want to use the word ‘industry’ – it’s a very narrow public discipline, and by virtue, a very narrow industry. So both public and private access to mental health is very limited,” Lee said.

Pakatan Harapan’s Ipoh Timor candidate Howard Lee Chuan How speaks at an election campaign rally in Pasir Pinji, Ipoh, Perak, on November 6, 2022. Picture by Saw Siow Feng.

The 39-year-old making a maiden run for Parliament, however, pointed to PH’s care economy agenda in its “Tawaran Harapan” GE15 election manifesto, which aims to professionalise the care sector, and build capacity and training to achieve an ideal caregiver support ratio.

If elected into the federal government, PH plans to table a National Care Economy and Ageing Community Preparedness Plan in Parliament.

“So for me, in full cognisance of the rising of the cycle of psychological and psychiatric care because of the increase of mental health issues in our society, I think, as part of the care economy, it must be something that we focus on and it is part of that care,” Lee said.

“Because the plan, the care economy plan is, if you look specifically into the words and the name of it is a National Care Economy and Ageing Community Preparedness Plan.

“Ageing community is separate from the care economy, or both are inextricably linked. It’s not just about elderly care. It’s about care for anyone who needs care, which includes those who have mental health issues. So it’s part of that.

“This is something that will require a lot more studies, such as how to mobilise the trained professionals that are out there, who are outside of the discipline, how to remobilise them to re-enter the discipline and the industry, creating more roles in the system, public and private et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

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