Experts: Youth’s mental wellbeing requires transformation of cities and social life

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Youth Mental Health Index can be a vital tool for monitoring the “psychosocial health” of youth on a periodic basis, say experts.

Consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS said the mental health problem faced by youth is not peculiar to Malaysia but has been observed worldwide.

“It might be better to move from calling this a ‘mental health’ problem to a ‘psychosocial’ problem. We can only expect it to worsen over time unless we act decisively to improve the situation for our youth,” he said.

The index, he said, is vital as a critical tool or guide to periodically monitor the psychosocial health of Malaysian youth.

ALSO READ: Survey: Majority of Malaysian youth have got the blues

Dr Amar was commenting on the findings of the Malaysian Youth Index 2023 (MyMHI’23) launched yesterday. It covers seven domains, namely lifestyle, surrounding environment, personal characteristics, life experiences, social support, coping mechanism, and healthy mind.

“MyMHI’23 overall rating was 71.9, from close to 6,000 participants, and shows us that Malaysian youth, as a whole, face a moderate risk of mental health issues.

“We would appreciate disaggregated data to see the index by social class, geographical location, ethnicity and gender,” he said.

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Of the domains, the worst scoring areas were “surrounding environment” (65.5), “healthy mind” (66.1) and “social support” (68.3), he noted.

“This data suggests that youth find the environment not very supportive, especially the physical environment and social expectations, are receiving inadequate support from family, significant others and experts, and many are experiencing some degree of anxiety or depression,” he added.

While acknowledging that there are good recommendations in the report, Dr Amar said to initiate a meaningful and real action plan, it is important to understand the reasons behind this global growing “psychosocial” pandemic.

ALSO READ: Malaysian youths' mental health status at moderate level, study finds

“The reasons are complex and the action plan needs to call for long-term prevention via a transformation of cities and social life.

“We require meaningful connections and relationships that are not screen-based, and numerous city-based green lungs for families to hang out and find each other.

“We need to change the focus of society on what constitutes success – relationships, and not achievements, acquisition, ability or fame.

“As we work on prevention, parents need to invest more time in listening to their children, and teachers must be aware of what is happening to the children they are teaching,” he added.

Aside from that, Dr Amar said the government must invest in the expansion of psychosocial services for adolescents nationwide with targeted federal funding.

Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh, a health economics and public health specialist with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said the study serves as a valuable early indication of potential mental health problems among Malaysian youth.

She pointed to another survey that was conducted in 2019 that had revealed that some 424,000 children in Malaysia had mental health problems, with one in eight adolescents aged 10 to 19 estimated to have a mental disorder.

“It’s crucial to continue addressing mental health challenges and providing support to those in need and from low-income families with conflicts,” she said.

However, Assoc Prof Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, dean of the Psychology and Social Sciences Faculty of University of Cyberjaya, said the research had not identified the actual groups where support was lacking and at actual risk.

“The report as a snapshot fails to show where effort should be put in, what groups would benefit from what kind of interventions and who are the most endangered,” she said, adding that more clarity is needed on the data.

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Mental Health , Youth , MyMHI23 , Experts


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