PETALING JAYA: Four out of every 10 Malaysians will fall victim to some form of mental health issue in the course of their lives and psychologists believe that the numbers will continue to rise.
International Medical University, consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, Dr Philip George said that numbers are often downplayed due to the stigma that surrounds the condition.
He added that the seriousness and the prevalence of issues like depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues should be accepted and acknowledged first in order to be treated.
“This is not something that only attacks the poor, weak and lonely. It happens to anyone and the World Bank had predicted that 340mil people will suffer from depression by 2020.
“Though the National Health and Morbidity survey says only 1.8% of the Malaysian population are depressed, we think there is a flaw and believe that at least 40% of Malaysians suffer from mental health issues.
“The difference is Asians do not talk about their problems. Unlike Caucasians, Asians do not have the words for emotions and that is a huge barrier,” he said adding that many people who walk among us are at least facing mild depression.
“They consider having an emotional problem to be a weakness, so instead they attribute it to a physical problem and highlight things like their inability to sleep, back pain, headache and constant fatigue.
He added that the National Institute of Health had found that depression to be a most disabling disease as it is not tangible and people find it hard to emphatise.
“It is not something one can snap out of, just like how people cannot snap out of diabetes or a stroke.
“However, with enough help and support, almost 90% of the patients can be restored to normal. Yes, they may have a relapse as their emotions are more sensitive, but they can be cured with the right help,” he added.
Supporting his statement was consultant psychiatrist, Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj who added that by 2030, depression will be the most disabling disease as it will have the highest number of days lost due to a disability.
He explained that a study done in the United States found that 30 to 40% of absenteeism at work is due to unexplained somatic complaints like body ache, lack of sleep, and lethargy.
“No studies have been done in Malaysia but a primary care study in Thailand about five years ago showed up to 30% were psychosomatic complaints.
"Many go unreported because firstly the difficulty in diagnosing depression, followed by the inability of people to recognise the symptoms of depression themselves,” he said adding that many who are in fact depressed are unwilling and embarrassed to come forward for treatment.
Dr Andrew also pointed out that the updated National Morbidity Survey would definitely see a higher number now.