More needed for mental healthcare

JOHOR BARU: Mental health experts and NGOs here are hoping that the government will provide more allocation for mental health support and treatment in Budget 2022 that will be tabled at the end of the month.

Johor Baru Monash University clinical school deputy head Assoc Prof Dr T. Sivakumar said more focus should be put on mental health, especially because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Budget has always looked kindly at the medical sector but mental health is only a small component of it and has often taken a backseat. There is a need for a higher allocation dedicated to mental health.

“In the past two years, with the onslaught of the pandemic, it is clear how important mental health has become and focus should be put on providing more access to the public to deal with mental health challenges,” he added.

Dr Sivakumar said the allocation could include extending the availability of medications to treat mental health-related diseases, particularly at government district clinics.

“While there are medications at some district clinics, it is still quite limited. They should look into providing better access to mental health treatments.

“Access to mental health at the moment has always been through government hospitals. There are those in private facilities and hospitals, but because most insurance schemes do not comprehensively cover mental health, patients will still have to fork out a lot of money for consultations and medications.

“While there have recently been insurance schemes that cover mental health, the coverage is still not comprehensive. Mental health treatments could be expensive, especially when they involve medication,” he said.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia counselling centre director Dr Zulfikar Ahmad said the government should also look into providing incentives for those who render support to people going through medical health challenges.

“Over the past five to 10 years, more Malaysians have developed a strong sense of providing support and assistance for those facing difficulties because of mental health problems. Most of these are through NGOs.

“However, there has not been much incentive or monetary aid targeting these efforts.

“Throughout the pandemic, the government has provided incentives for frontliners but there has been little mention for those at the second line of defence – the mental health practitioners and support groups,” he said.

Dr Zulfikar also called for more scholarships to be made available to those aspiring to be trained as counsellors.

Johor Baru Befrienders president Danny Loo said the Budget should also provide funds for NGOs offering support to those struggling with mental health issues.

“Such NGOs have not got any support through the Budget over the years and I hope that Budget 2022 will change that and be an inclusive one.

“This has taken a new urgency due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused NGOs to receive lower donations from the public as we could not conduct physical charity events to collect more funds,” he said.

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