Treatment for mental illness is becoming a pressing public health issue in Malaysia, given that barely two years ago, as many as one in three adults were estimated to be living in a state of psychological ill health and at risk of developing a diagnosable mental disorder.
Against the rising demand, pressure is mounting to develop good access to mental healthcare resources. Yet, while the government has done some paperwork to strengthen mental health services, on the ground, access to these services remains riddled with challenges.
Firstly, there is limited availability of mental health specialists, especially in government hospitals. Workforce shortage and uneven distribution of services have resulted in certain states and rural areas being underserved and lacking access to treatment resources.
Affordability is another key barrier. Though public healthcare is low-cost, long waiting times and shortened consultation hours have greatly compromised care quality. Private treatment is an alternative option, but is expensive and far beyond the means of the average Malaysian.
Stigma and negative public attitudes make up the final, but no less damaging, ‘invisible’ barrier. Stigma against mental illness appears both in systemic forms, such as the lack of mental health insurance coverage, as well as social discrimination in the workplace and within family circles. Because of this, the mentally ill suffer unnecessary shame and are discouraged from seeking help for their conditions.
Penang Institute has produced a policy brief on these three barriers in mental health care, while acknowledging that there are many other issues and challenges that remain to be addressed. The report examines each barrier in greater detail, and outlines recommendations to address these problems, in order to help educate policymakers about mental health issues and encourage the push for improving access to mental healthcare in Malaysia.
To disseminate the findings to the wider public, Penang Institute will be hosting a forum to launch the report and bring together policymakers, mental health providers, advocates and community members to dialogue and exchange ideas on improving mental healthcare for the country.
By encouraging more ‘open talk’ in society about mental illness, it is hoped that greater generation of awareness will encourage the afflicted to move away from suffering in silence and towards help that empowers them to lead productive, meaningful and consequential lives.
1. Lim Su Lin, Policy Analyst, Penang Institute (report author)
2. Dr Abdul Kadir Abu Bakar, former President of Malaysia Psychiatric Association, Senior Psychiatrist and current Hospital Director of Hospital Permai Johor Bahru
3. Datin Dr Ang Kim Teng, Honorary Secretary-General of the Malaysian Mental Health Association
4. Dr Chua Sook Ning, clinical psychologist and Founder of Relate Malaysia, a mental health research and advocacy organization
Please click here to register.