Mental health is a human right – it’s time that mental health is available for all

This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day(WMHD) 2020 “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access” is really befitting during our pandemic season and serves an important reminder for us on how far we have come and how far we need to go in terms of mental health education, awareness and advocacy in our country.

While we have progressed much in terms of Mental Health conversations and education for the past years, but much still needs to be done as many of such conversations are still a taboo in many societies in our country.

This is concerning because mental health issues are not a new phenomenon in Malaysia. Fact of the matter is, there has been a three-fold increase of mental health conditions within a 20-year span from 1996 to 2015.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 estimated that 2.3% of the Malaysian population suffer from depression which comes up to approximately half a million people!

What is more alarming is that it is reported that 424,000 Malaysian children were found to have mental health problems including anxiety and depression.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has also unprecedented impact on the mental health of millions and is also expected to exacerbate the situation as a result of anxiety and depression caused by the economic fallouts of the pandemic and the movement control order (MCO).

We know that the levels of anxiety, fear, isolation, social distancing and restrictions, uncertainty and emotional distress experienced have become widespread as the world struggles to bring the virus under control and to find solutions.

As we are at war to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infections, there may be another bomb waiting to explode which is the “silent mental illness pandemic”

The impact of mental health conditions is not merely a health situation, but it has potentially affects against the nation’s economy.

In 2018, mental health conditions experienced at workplaces were estimated to cost the Malaysian economy RM14.46 billion. Imagine its economic impact with the increasing of cases expected this year and beyond.

This show the urgency of the matter and that is why much has to be done especially for greater investment in mental health to increase accessibility to all.

As the approach the Budget Parliamentary session in November, there are few matters that I will be pushing for specifically with regards to Mental Health;

  1. greater investment into mental health especially the need to increase mental health professionals especially in our public system including better infrastructures and accessibility;
    • more training for mental health professionals, para-professionals, and allied partners including NGOs, welfare departments, and school counsellors.
    • Expansion of our mental health facilities, specialised mental institutions and MENTARI initiatives.

    There is an urgent need to ensure investment is prioritised so that Malaysia has adequate capacity to manage both the immediate post-pandemic mental health issues, and also to stay vigilant in preparation for possibly future mental health crises.

  2. I will continue to push in Parliament in the urgent need to repeal Section 309 to decriminalise attempted suicide;
  3. Revive the National Mental Health Registry (NHMR) to ensure comprehensive coverage of mental disorders, regular updates and monitoring, and independence of the registry within the healthcare system;
    • Such registry must also be monitored and acted upon by a cross-ministry action committee to process the data and more importantly come up with comprehensive and holistic measures to address the rise of mental health conditions in our society especially during this pandemic and post-pandemic period.
  4. Need for a National Post-Pandemic Mental Health Plan to properly address the rise of Mental Health cases caused by the pandemic and extensive plans to help us recover both physically and mentally to promote greater productivity among our people to recover and rebuild our country.

Mental health is a human right – it’s time that mental health is available for all. Only by prioritising greater investment to mental health can we see better accessibility so that all regardless of circumstances, age, socioeconomic status, education, gender, culture, race or religion may have access to quality mental health care.

Mental health should be seen as an investment, rather than as an expense. There is no Wealth without Health, and there is no Health without Mental Health.

Happy World Mental Health Day 2020

Dr. Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP FOR BANDAR KUCHING
Media statement by Dr. Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen in Kuching on Saturday, 10th October 2020