Stop stigma against depression

PETALING JAYA: If you were to tell someone that you have depression, there is a good chance he or she will react to it negatively.

According to Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) Psychiatric Department head Professor Dr. Ahmad Hatim Sulaiman, however, as much as 11% of Malaysian adults are diagnosed with depression.

Hatim said the mental illness is more common than people think, but most who are suffering from it are reluctant to come forward and seek treatment due to the stigma, which agitates the disease since it is left untreated.

"Society treats mental illness like it is something abnormal, but depression is actually the number one mental illness among adults.

"Mild to moderate forms of depression can be easily treated, but it is difficult for people to come forward, and if left untreated it could have dire consequences such as suicide," he told a press conference at UMMC today.

Hatim said there is a common misconception that depression, or any other mental illness, amounts to insanity, but stressed that, like cancer, early detection and treatment is key.

Malaysia Psychiatric Association (MPA) president Professor Dr. Nor Zuraida Zainal said the stigma also extends to employment both in the public and private sector, with employers reluctant to hire those with depression and other mental illness.

"Employment is a huge challenge and they (employers) need to be educated. If you can accept diabetes and heart diseases, why not mental illness too?" Zuraida said.

She said this is among major factors for sufferers' reluctance to seek treatment as they are afraid that their illness will become part of their employment record, which will rob them of their jobs.

Zuraida then assured those who need help that patient records are confidential and is only known by patients themselves and the doctors treating them.

Hatim and Zuraida were at UMMC to launch Depression Awareness Day 2016 and gave talks on the topic as well.