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MP SPEAKS | Address stigma first to help mental patients

MP SPEAKS | The stigma surrounding mental illness is a complex issue influenced by various factors. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of understanding and knowledge about mental illness.

Misinformation, stereotypes, and myths contribute to misconceptions about mental health conditions. This ignorance can lead to fear and discrimination.

Historically, mental illness has been misunderstood and associated with supernatural or religious beliefs. This historical context has influenced community attitudes and contributed to the stigmatisation of mental health conditions.

Cultural and religious beliefs can shape attitudes towards mental illness. Some cultures may consider mental health conditions to be the result of supernatural causes or punishment for past actions. These beliefs can hinder efforts to seek help.

People with mental illness are often seen as deviating from societal norms, leading to their marginalisation. The Health Ministry has recorded approximately 424,000 children in Malaysia who have been diagnosed with mental health problems.

According to the United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres, nearly one billion people worldwide experience mental health issues.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres

Mental illness is often associated with personal weakness, character flaws, or a lack of willpower. These perceptions lead to blaming attitudes and judgments, rather than recognising mental health conditions as medical conditions that require understanding, support, and treatment.

Mental health issues

Mental health issues cannot be taken lightly as they can have a significant negative impact on a country.

Media portrayals of mental illness can perpetuate stereotypes that stigmatise or sensationalise mental health issues. Similarly, the language used to describe mental illness can reinforce negative perceptions and contribute to the stigmatisation of individuals with mental health conditions.

Integrating mental health services into primary healthcare settings makes accessing mental healthcare easier and reduces the stigma associated with seeking specialised mental health treatment.

This involves training primary healthcare providers to identify and manage common mental health conditions and ensuring adequate referral pathways to specialised services.

The government can initiate public campaigns to combat stigma and raise awareness about mental health issues. These campaigns can aim to debunk myths, challenge stereotypes, and promote understanding and empathy towards individuals with mental illness.

Strategies can include media campaigns, community-based programmes, and school-based initiatives to educate and engage the public.

Additionally, the government can support and fund peer support initiatives and recovery programmes that provide platforms for individuals with lived experiences of mental illness to connect, share their stories, and support one another.

These programmes can play a vital role in reducing isolation, providing hope, and fostering empowerment.

Incorporating mental health education into the school curriculum can cultivate a culture of mental health literacy among students from a young age.

This can involve teaching about common mental health conditions, strategies for coping, and promoting emotional well-being. Educating the public through awareness campaigns, workshops, and training programmes for various sectors (such as employers, law enforcement, and healthcare professionals) is also important.

Research initiatives

Simultaneously, the government needs to invest in research initiatives to enhance understanding of mental health issues, prevalence, and effective interventions.

Efforts to gather accurate and up-to-date data on the prevalence of mental illness, treatment outcomes, and the impact of stigma can provide information for evidence-based policies and practices, leading to improved policy alignment.

According to an article in Berita Harian dated March 8, 2023, the residents of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya were found to be the most depressed in Malaysia. While this study involved screening 336,900 residents nationwide, does this data provide a comprehensive overview?

An integrated mental health policy is needed across various sectors, including health, education, employment, and social services. Efforts to establish coordination and collaboration among agencies can lead to a more comprehensive and holistic approach to mental health promotion, prevention, and treatment.

By increasing awareness, reducing stigma, and ensuring accessible and quality mental health services, Malaysia can move towards a society that supports the well-being of all its citizens.


The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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