12% Malaysians suffer from some forms of mental illness

PUTRAJAYA (Feb 16, 2012): Mental health is now a mind-bogging problem in the country, with more people believed to be experiencing some sorts of emotional stress and mental distress.

According to the 2011 National Health and Morbidity Survey, 12% of Malaysians aged between 18 and 60 are suffering from some forms of mental illness.

Mental health has also been recently discussed in the media with murders being committed by alleged mentally-ill patients, such as the one in Trengganu where a saleswoman was killed by an alleged mentally-deranged person.

Of the percentage affected by mental illness, depression made up 2%, psychosis 1%, worrying 1.8%, while the rest involved anxiety disorder, which is a chronic disease, and mild mental diseases.

In response to the rising number of people diagnosed with mental illness, the Mental Health Community Centre was set up by the Health Ministry in November last year.

The centre is the first of its kind in the country. It is affiliated to a government hospital that offers psychiatric community services. There are also home visits so that patients are not confined to the hospital, but have the support of family and community.

Hospital Putrajaya (HPJ) psychiatry department head Dr Azizul Awaluddin, who oversees the centre, told theSun that the centre was set up last year to help de-congest the hospitals, especially the HPJ and Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL).

"This reduces waiting times for patients, and specialists can assess psycho-social factors like the home environment," he said.

The shortage of specialists to combat the rising number of patients is evidenced in a recent case of a grandmother in Petaling Jaya, who, charged for the murder of her granddaughter, had to be moved from the HKL to Hospital Bahagia as there was a lack of specialists to evaluate the severity of her illness.

"The HPJ staff members assigned to the centre are three psychiatrists, three medical officers, and four health professionals. At present, with the team available, we can cater to more patients than the 45 we have now, but we don't know our limit yet," Azizul said.

He said that three hospitals from Penang, Sabah and Kelantan have sought their assistance to set up similar centres.

"The onset of psychotic illness is 15 to 24 years of age for males, and 24 to 35 for females.

The males normally start getting mental problems when they start discovering their identity. For women, the illness usually becomes apparent after they got married," he said.

While the fight against mental illness is a hard, and sometimes, an extremely long journey, success stories reinforce the belief that there is hope for many.

At the centre, patients are also involved in rehabilitation programmes. Twice a week, a group of 10 patients makes a traditional cake or dish to sell at HPJ, and those involved in selling the food items get a commission from the sales.

"In our rehabilitation programme, the patients are stable enough to know they need to take medication and need to come in for their follow-ups, so we train them for the working world," Azizul said.

"So far, six patients have 'graduated' and hold jobs as waiters, car washers, and fast food chain workers through our Supported Employment programme," he said.

The goal of the centre is to see all its patients walk out of its doors someday, stable and independent and able to support themselves.

Some patients such as "John" visit to the centre to have someone to talk to. John is a schizophrenia patient enrolled in the rehabilitation programme at the Mental Health Community Centre.

Under Azizul and his team of well-trained staff, John, 30, is said to have made improvements since he started going to the centre last year.

Azizul said the rehabilitation programme was launched in 2008, but due to space constraints in the hospital, group therapies were conducted only once a week.

"Now, with this centre, we can do a lot more. We have a five-day programme when we teach them social skills, conduct group therapy and also teach them how to cook and do simple housework," he said.

The centre, located at Precinct 11 in Putrajaya, was set up as a pilot project with the aim of providing support to the psychiatric departments of government hospitals in the area.