Malaysiakini Letter

Mental illness is not merely a psychological problem

Ronald Benjamin
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses workers face in their workplace, say mental health advocates as reported in The Star in an Oct 20 article with the heading “Tackling anxiety and depression”.

According to Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association founder and president  Anita Abu Bakar, most workers face high stress levels due to factors such as hitting key performance indicators, and deadlines in their day-to-day work life.

There is some element of truth in Anita’s assertion, but not the whole truth. This is because there is an absence of analysis of the external materialistic cultural dimension of work in the whole discourse about mental illness.

The fact is, success at work is measured through an external dimension, where meeting goals and expectations are given prominence with scant attention to the interior self or whole being of a person.

People are made up of various personalities and cultural conditioning, and the way to an enlightened mind is when there is focus on the interior self of a human person.

Human beings are not just made up of mind and body, but there is also spirit, which is the essence of their being. The spirit is where the one deepest desire is found, where gift and talents emanate from.

Today, in a highly secularised world, such spiritual essence is neglected while attempts are made to create a false or temporary attraction in the world by emphasising the material benefits that come with meeting goals and expectations. There is much of talk of acquiring knowledge, skills and attitude without linking it to spirituality, which gives it meaning and purpose.

Workers are compel to focus more in meeting goals and expectations than focusing on their interior wellbeing. It is in the process of interior contemplation that purpose and passion is found. This is where spirituality and work are integrated, and not just the mind. When one is devoted to a purpose or a cause that resembles one’s gift and talents, a job gets done with greater vigour.  

The failure of organisations to see persons as integral beings made up of mind, body and spirit is the social cause of mental illness, unless it has a genetic element.

In addressing mental illness, it is vital for the public and private sectors to refer to our rich Asean spiritual traditions that are often neglected, where the emphasis on religion is placed on form rather than substance.

I would suggest that meditative practices and universal spirituality of faith, love, compassion and contemplation become part and parcel of the work culture in our country. Meditative practices are not merely about creating clarity of mind, but also about tapping into the divine energy that transforms a person.

Therefore, there is a need for a new vision of human capital development in the country where there is an integral human development approach that focuses on wholeness of persons and its context, instead of merely focusing on the mind which is the root cause of mental illness in the workplace.

The Rukunegara speaks about belief in God. Let’s translate this belief into spiritual essence and help reduce the incidence of mental illness in the country.


RONALD BENJAMIN is executive secretary of Pertubuhan Kebajikan Komuniti dan Dialog.

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

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