Mental Health Illness in Malaysia: A Taboo Topic To Talk About

Have you been in a situation where you are facing depression and when you try to talk it out to someone older, they always tend to say just pray and it will be all fine? Well, if you have been in this kind of situation then, high five! Most of the old generation never understood what mental health illness was and would always consider it madness. 

Till today, most people do not understand what mental health illness is and how to get it treated with proper care. So, why is mental health illness still considered a taboo topic to talk about today in Malaysia?

Mental Health Illness in Malaysia
Photo: @Unsplash

So, let’s start off with what is a mental health illness. Mental health illness also known as mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions characterized by disturbances in mood, thinking, and behavior. Depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors are all examples of mental illnesses. 

Many people experience mental health issues from time to time. When ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and impair your ability to function, a mental health concern becomes a mental illness.

A mental illness can make you unhappy and cause difficulties in your daily life, such as at school, work, or in relationships. Symptoms can usually be managed with a combination of medications and talk therapy. The symptoms of mental illness include extreme mood swings, low energy, trouble sleeping, suicidal thoughts and many others. But, sometimes, the symptoms of a person suffering from mental illness can not be seen and are not too obvious to notice. Therefore, it is important to take proper care and pay proper attention to people who are suffering from mental illness. 

Mental Health Illness in Malaysia
Photo: @Unsplash

Statistics of Malaysians Facing Mental Health Illness

Mental Health Illness in Malaysia
Photo:@Trusted Malaysia

According to the Ministry of Health Malaysia, a survey was conducted by the ministry in 2015 was The National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), where almost 29.2% of teenagers and adults ranging from 16 years old and above suffer from mental health issues.

Individuals with mental health issues can be found at all stages of life. Financial difficulties, unemployment, work-related stress, family issues such as marital discord, poor parenting, and other environmental factors are among the possible contributors to this more than two-fold increase over the last ten years which was 10.6 percent in 1996 and later on,  11.2 per cent in 2006. All of this, combined with poor coping skills and social support, can exacerbate one’s mental health. Despite the availability of effective treatment, a person suffering from a mental health disorder may choose not to seek help for a variety of reasons, including social stigma or religious beliefs.

The Burden of Mental Health Illness in Malaysia

In Malaysia, the rural regions contribute to the most amount of mental health issues with a rate of 43% while in the capital of Kuala Lumpur the rate of people with mental health issues are at 40% of the overall population. Rural areas have worse socioeconomic conditions, with higher rates of poverty and unemployment. This, combined with increased stigma, limited access to general and mental healthcare, and the practice of seeking alternative care through religious practitioners or shamans, can all contribute to an increased risk of mental health problems developing and persisting.

Mental Health Illness in Malaysia
Photo: @Unsplash

In Malaysia, the prevalence of mental disorders has risen dramatically over the last decade. 2 Malaysia is transitioning from a middle-income to a high-income country, with rapid cultural and lifestyle changes brought on by increased urbanisation and globalisation, as well as higher levels of perceived stress. Many people are still affected by persistent economic difficulties, which contribute to social problems such as increased marital separation, changes in traditional parenting styles and family unit structure, and an increase in alcohol and drug use in the context of cultural changes.

In Malaysia, mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability and health loss, accounting for 8.6% of total disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs). The rising prevalence of mental disorders in Malaysia is associated with a rising economic burden, with an economic analysis estimating that mental health problems in the workplace cost the Malaysian economy RM 4.46 billion in 2018.

Discrimination Faced By Malaysians With Mental Health Issues

Mental Health Illness in Malaysia
Photo: @Unsplash

According to the 2015 National Health Morbidity Survey, mental health conditions or mental illnesses are expected to be the second most common illness affecting Malaysians after heart disease by 2020. Despite popular belief, most people who suffer from mental health conditions recover or are able to live with and manage them, particularly if they seek help early on.

However, the journey of a person suffering from mental illness is not easy, especially given the numerous social stigmas associated with the condition. They frequently face discrimination in all aspects of their lives, making them feel ashamed for something over which they have no control. Worse, the stigma prevents people from seeking necessary assistance.

Malaysians face discrimination due to mental health issues due to misunderstandings due to cultural reasons. Much of the stigma surrounding mental health issues in Asia stems from our cultural backgrounds, which are predominantly dominated by religious or spiritual explanations. Many families, particularly those in rural areas, still associate mental health problems with demon possession, divine punishment, soul sickness, and other such concepts.

Mental illness is commonly regarded as a supernatural phenomenon rather than a scientifically proven disorder. This encourages those suffering from mental illnesses to seek assistance from mediums and healers, which may exacerbate the situation.

Another common misconception on our side of the globe is that mental illnesses only affect the weak. This stigma is so widespread that it prevents those who are affected from receiving the care they require. Those suffering from mental illness are frequently labelled as insane, weak, overly sensitive, lacking in faith, and overly dramatic.

Mental Health Illness in Malaysia
Photo: @Unsplash

So, how do we overcome the stigma associated with mental illness? To begin, mental health professionals and the government must work together to provide services that will best engage and treat all patients, particularly young adults. 

Eliminating barriers is a critical step in our society’s progress toward a community free of mental health stigma. Discussions and engagements about mental health awareness should be done more openly rather than whispering about it, which may have caused it to become a taboo or an embarrassing topic to share. Nothing about mental health should be humiliating, so do not be afraid to discuss it openly.

Kaveljeet Kaur
Kaveljeet Kaur
A TehTalk author, an introvert mix extrovert, loves coffee and dogs!

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