KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — The prevalence of mental health problems amongst children continues to be a concerning issue in Malaysia.

The latest National Health and Morbidity Survey 2023 report by the Health Ministry found that the burden of mental health problems among Malaysian children doubled since 2019, affecting one in six individuals.

With that in mind, Better Dads Malaysia adviser and co-founder Jason Leong has called for more lay counsellors to be trained as frontline assistants in a rapid response intervention strategy.

According to him, in most cases, people need a pair of ears to let go of their emotions and problems.

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“Lay counsellors who have yet to be registered can be trained to be the first responders to talk to help seekers and assist them.

“But in more serious cases, they can always refer them to registered counsellors for a more in-depth intervention and treatment.”

'Better Dads Malaysia' counselling unit head See Tho Puk Lim talks about the counsellor's shortage in Malaysia. — Picture by Choo Choy May 
'Better Dads Malaysia' counselling unit head See Tho Puk Lim talks about the counsellor's shortage in Malaysia. — Picture by Choo Choy May 

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Citing the latest available data, Better Dads Malaysia counselling unit head See Tho Puk Lim said there are only 9,652 registered counsellors in Malaysia which is too little for Malaysia’s population.

“That means we only have one registered counsellor per 3,716 Malaysians.

“This ratio is too high and can’t effectively handle the modern day social problems which are getting more complex.”

According to See Tho, there are rising community crises such as child abuse, domestic violence, rising divorce rates, baby dumping and paedophilia that require proper intervention.

See Tho, who is a registered counsellor said a good and realistic target ratio for counsellors in Malaysia would be one per 2,500 people to cope with the existing mental and social problems.

He said the organisation aims to create a pool of volunteer counsellors to set up a hotline for people who require urgent counselling session.

Better Dads Malaysia advisor and co-founder Jason Leong talks about the importance of having more trained counsellors in Malaysia. — Picture by Choo Choy May 
Better Dads Malaysia advisor and co-founder Jason Leong talks about the importance of having more trained counsellors in Malaysia. — Picture by Choo Choy May 

Tackling the roots of the problem

Better Dads Malaysia, a non-profit organisation, was set up in 2019 to lead a national movement for fathers in Malaysia.

The organisation often conducts talks and workshops to advocate and teach good fathering habits to men.

According to Leong, fathers uniquely contribute to early childhood development by promoting more risk-taking and problem-solving behaviour through greater physical engagement with the child than is typically done by mothers.

“Just as much as a mother’s presence is important for the child’s development, fathers must engage and spend time with their children.

“We can’t just ignore our children’s emotional needs and give an excuse that we need to be the breadwinner and look for money all the time.”

Leong said he often comes across fathers who don’t spend much time with their children but instead say they have quality time with their kids.

“The idea of quality time is a myth.

“You cannot call your child to come over and say this is where we have quality time together for 10 minutes.”

According to him, quality comes with quantity.

“Teachable moments may come at any time and any place where your child asks questions just about anything, hence you need to be more present to achieve the ‘quality time’.”

Better Dads Malaysia has been working closely with the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) as well as the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM) to roll out various programmes namely, I Can fathering workshop and parent-child bonding activities in Klang Valley and other cities.

The organisation also hosted a workshop for the orang asli community to educate them about the importance of parenting.

The NGO will be hosting the Father’s Day celebration luncheon next Saturday in collaboration with Pertubuhan Ikram, KPWKM and LPPKN.

The event will be held on June 22 at Temu Jelatek The Event Space at Datum Jelatek Shopping Mall from 9am until 2pm.

Those who wish to attend the event may make a reservation at 017-6696252.

Admission is free.