LIKE a ticking time bomb, those who are suffering from mental health problems may explode at any time, affecting their family, community and workplace.
The fact that some mental disorders and illnesses were caused by drug abuse should open our eyes to the seriousness of the issue.
We must find ways to tackle drug addiction, which is increasing every year.
In the past few years, many shocking crimes have made us wonder what had happened to Malaysians, who were once known for our well-mannered attitude.
Reports of brutal murder cases showed that perpetrators were cold-blooded.
Similarly, rape cases, incest, sexual abuse, domestic violence and bullying are increasingly widespread.
The government and society need to focus on mental health development and make it a national agenda.
At the same time, the Education Ministry must carry out mental and psychological assessment of students and teachers who show signs of mental distress, and provide them with psychological counselling.
Prevention in the early stages can reduce the likelihood of teachers and students with mental problems turning violent or resorting to extreme measures, including suicide.
We should stop the stigmatisation of mentally ill persons, who are often regarded as orang gila, or crazy people.
Instead of insulting them, we should help them get counselling or psychiatric treatment.
Many of us do not realise the importance of mental health development, even though experts have warned that mental illness would be the second main health problem in Malaysia after heart disease by 2020.
The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 showed that about 4.2 million Malaysians aged 16 and above — or 29.2 percent of the population — suffer from mental problems.
This is an increase of 11.2 per cent compared with 2006.
More worryingly, the problem involves students because the ratio of those with mental illness has increased from one in 10 people in 2011 to one in five in 2016.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had proposed that the Malaysian Psychological Wellbeing Index be set up to measure the mental and emotional wellbeing of the people.
The index can be implemented by the Health Ministry, and the results should be used to help the authorities plan programmes to address mental health issues.
We should not abandon mental health development in our pursuit to make Malaysia a high-income and developed nation.
Increased violence and suicidal tendencies among young people should be viewed seriously as they may be linked to mental health problems.
A study by a non-governmental organisation, Befrienders KL, showed that suicide was the second cause of death for those aged between 15 and 29 in Malaysia.
We need more psychologists since there are only 140 clinical psychologists in the country.
Malaysia also faces a shortage of psychiatrists as there are only 360 registered psychiatrists in the public and private sectors.
The ratio of psychiatrists to the population is 1:200,000, much lower than the 1:10,000 recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Thus, the government must encourage more doctors to become experts in this area as we need 3,000 psychiatrists to achieve the WHO ratio.
I hope the government will speed up the implementation of the National Mental Health Strategic Plan, in line with WHO’s plan to address mental health cases worldwide.
We must remember that the focus and investment given to the mental health and emotional wellbeing will have a positive impact for future generations.
At the same time, it will ensure that our human capital is mentally and physically fit, with higher productivity to achieve the target set under the Transformasi Nasional 2050 initiative.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
Member, Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council