‘Start mental health screenings early’

Mind matters: (From left) Ustaz Mohd Noor Deros, Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan, Anita and Lee at the forum in conjunction with World Health Day 2018.

KUALA LUMPUR: Mental health screening should start at the age of 12 instead of 16 in public schools to better tackle such concerns among students, the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) said.

Its president Anita Abu Bakar said presently, such efforts were carried out for 16-year-olds in public schools through the Health Ministry’s “Program Minda Sihat” (Healthy Mind Programme), adding that it was too late at this stage as some of their mental health issues would have escalated.

“The screening should be done at the exit of primary school,” she said during a forum in conjunction with World Mental Health Day 2018 themed “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World” yesterday.

Anita pointed out that based on feedback from the young, counsellors need to be better trained on ethics and confidentiality because students had complained that some counsellors talked to others about the issues raised and they did not feel safe confiding in them.

Malaysian Psychiatric Association patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the Health Ministry had a programme teaching students about mental health but it was not possible to cater to the five million students in 10,000 schools nationwide.

“It is a monumental task. I hope the Education Ministry will do more,” he said.

He said that while the ministry looked at reforming education, better mental health development programmes must be developed with more school counsellors with psychological skills placed in schools.

Lee said it was important to build mental resilience in the young in order for them to cope with the challenges in life.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 showed that about 4.2 million Malaysians aged 16 and above, or 29.2% of the national population, suffered from various mental problems.

This was an increase of 11.2% compared with 2006.

More worryingly, Lee said the problem also involved students as the ratio of students with mental problems increased from one in every 10 in 2011 to one in five in 2016.

Struggling to cope with their studies, family expectations and relationships rank among the other main concern of students.

Lee said some mental disorders and illnesses were also caused by drug abuse and there was a need to find the best ways to tackle drug addiction that was increasing yearly.

“We must look seriously at the deteriorating mental health issue and how it has led to other problems such as physical and cyber bullying and sadistic happenings,” he said.

A special guest at the event, Pahang Princess Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Tengku Abdullah, spoke of how people paid much attention to other aspects of life and ignored mental health issues.

“It is important for people to take care of their mental and physical health. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others,” she said, adding that she reads to help her cope with stress.

Miasa, which celebrated its first anniversary yesterday, launched its official newsletter to mark the event.

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