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Don’t ignore mental health of kids and teens

30 Jun 2020 / 20:14 H.

THE government has done its best to curb the spread of Covid-19 including implementing the movement control order (MCO) and enforcing the closure of schools.

These life-saving measures are essential to safeguard our health and have been effective. However, this national health crisis goes beyond physical health.

All the sudden changes (loss of routine, social/physical disconnection, and disruption of education) can be an additional pressure on children and adolescents.

The number is sure to rise in the current situation which brings us to the next point. Help is essentially warranted for us to establish a proper support system which is easily accessible to children and adolescents.

It is true that children and adolescents’ mental health was starting to receive the necessary awareness and resources. But such emphasis on mental health typically among children and adolescents in our beloved nation is far from well established.

Services are often overstretched and inconsistent across the country. The ratio of psychiatrist serving the population was about 0.52 per 100,000 population.

There were only 12 clinical psychologist providing services at hospitals under the Ministry of Health supported by a total of 49 counsellors till 2015. The ratio of these mental health professionals was 0.2 per 100,000 population. There were two states with no psychologists (Pahang and WP Labuan) by 2015.

This data depicts the urgency of our situation; a severe lack of mental health professionals to cater to the needs of our children and adolescents. With demand that is likely to surge, we need to start building the momentum to prioritise the mental health of children and adolescents.

While there are many sectors and organisations that are quick to help fill this severe lack of mental health professionals, we believe that it is necessary and important for the government to take the lead.

There remain gaps in infrastructure and funding which threaten the long-term sustainability of these efforts.

This is where the government must take a clear and coordinated approach to tackle the impact of mental health on children and adolescents.

We urge the government to:

1. Establish a succinct and feasible mental health service provision framework not bound by geographical and physical barriers (moving support online, and using innovative approaches to safe mental health service delivery).

2. Create positions for mental health professionals to cater to the needs of children and adolescents.

3. Establish a task force to:

a. Conduct research to capture an accurate and up-to-date prevalence rate of mental health conditions.

b. Review the successes and challenges to identify and address service gaps.

c. Map children and adolescents’ mental health services.

d. Reinforce the importance of professional development for mental health professionals.

e. Coordinate and organise national campaigns to promote positive approaches for maintaining mental wellbeing.

f. Provide mental health first aid training for teachers.

4. Adopt a “young people’s well-being in all policies” approach to policymaking processes.

5. Include basic mental health education within the school curriculum that covers the inter-linkage between physical health and mental wellbeing.

6. Offer funding for the above suggestions to urgently increase access to mental health support.

To build a strong and resilient nation, we need to focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of our people, especially our young people. Not a single aspect should be neglected.

Your Ears And Heart

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