PETALING JAYA, June 21 — Dr Kelvin Yii called for the destigmatisation of mental health within the public health service itself, after two health care workers recently died from suicide.
The Bandar Kuching MP, who is also special advisor to Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) is currently identifying the hurdles and obstacles that are hindering health care professionals and workers from seeking help for mental health issues.
“Basically, I think one of the biggest hindrances for health care workers to seek help is the stigma within the system itself,” Dr Yii told reporters at an “Empowering Minds for the Future” event organised by Doctor Anywhere in Bandar Utama here yesterday.
“I think as much as we promote to destigmatise the issue of mental health among the public, we also need to have some concerted effort to destigmatise it within health care workers – so that it is safe for health care workers to seek help and support without them being stigmatised and not let it being held against them, especially when it comes to promotion, progression and advancement within the Ministry of Health system itself.
“I think what we are looking at working is to strengthen what we call Akrab, which is the support group within the Ministry of Health itself. We want to expand this to multiple levels and also more specific to different health care workers categories and groups so that they can identify with themselves better.”
The Selangor state health department recently confirmed the deaths of two health care workers who had worked at health care facilities in Klang, occurring just two days apart last June 4 and June 6.
The June 6 death was of a 32-year-old female doctor, four months pregnant, who had worked at a public health clinic (klinik kesihatan) under the MOH in Klang.
Dr Zaliha, in a brief comment to reporters last Tuesday on the deaths of the two health care workers, said that current measures sufficed — the Heal 15555 hotline and counselling services at public hospitals – but could be improved if necessary.
Her special advisor said Heal 15555 has been largely successful in addressing mental health issues among health care workers.
Dr Yii said that since October 2022, the Heal 15555 helpline had received 18,264 calls. Out of those calls, 12,181 callers (67 per cent) received some form of emotional support and psychosocial therapy. A total of 6,083 callers (33 per cent) received intervention by a psychology counselling officer.
A total of 169 cases of suicidal behaviour, which includes suicide ideation and attempted suicide, received intervention — the MERS 999 line was activated and callers were brought to a hospital to receive the necessary support.
“So Talian Heal – as I said, we are always finding ways to improve – but it has shown effective in addressing some of the concerns and that is where we promote and encourage people to seek help,” Dr Yii said.
“But more importantly, as I said, in the health care sector itself, we want to destigmatise the conversation, and this happens not just from bottom to top, from top to down, so where health care workers find it safe to seek help without any stigma or repercussions, especially in MOH.”
The DAP lawmaker said that he has spoken to Dr Zaliha about the health worker deaths and held that the health minister is taking the matter seriously.
“One target group that’s very close to the ministry’s heart, and also very close to us, is our health care workers and our health care staff. Those and those involved in the care economy, we need to protect and care for those that care for us,” Dr Yii said.
“Recently, we are very saddened by two cases of suicide of health care workers in Klang. One of them was four months pregnant. I have spoken to the minister about this, and she’s really saddened. She really wants to take this matter seriously in addressing the core issues faced by our health care workers, including looking deeper into perinatal mental health support.
“So all these cases are still under investigation by the police. The ministry is taking proactive steps in identifying the root cause of it, on top of trying our best to improve work conditions in all our facilities, regardless of whether the core issue or the catalyst or the trigger originates from there or not.”
Dr Yii also said the MOH is looking into implementing some of the policies and recommendations made by the Health Care Work Culture Improvement Task Force (HWCTIF) in its report released last August.
The HWCITF was formed under then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin last year as a response to the death of a houseman from Penang Hospital in April 2022, amid anecdotal reports of workplace bullying within the MOH in general.
“We are looking at implementing some of the policies and recommendations. I will give maybe more detailed answers in terms of the progress, what has been done, but as I said we are committed to translating what has been mentioned in the report itself into workable and tangible policies,” Dr Yii said.
CodeBlue has launched a survey for government health care professionals and workers on mental health. Those working in MOH, Ministry of Higher Education, and Ministry of Defence facilities are invited to participate in the poll. Please email codeblu[email protected] to request for the link to the online survey.
FWD Takaful and Doctor Anywhere provide free counselling services.