GEORGE TOWN, Oct 20 — The Covid-19 pandemic has not only affected public health, but also the mental health of many, yet mental healthcare in terms of counsellor availability is still lacking in this country.
The rise in suicide cases over the past two years, which saw Penang recording among the highest number of such cases this year, showed that there is a need to focus on providing mental healthcare to those who need it, according to mental health expert Synthia Surin.
The costs of seeing a psychiatrist could be prohibitive for some, especially those who have lost their source of income, so Synthia suggested that insurance companies look into providing coverage for mental health treatments.
The International College of Clinical Hypnotherapy Practitioners Asia regional director said during this post-pandemic period, many will struggle with mental health challenges.
“Insurance companies should start acknowledging that mental health treatments should be claimable but they don’t want to do something about this,” she said.
She said many multinational companies, with funds for other social welfare programmes for their employees, have also neglected to set aside funds for their employees’ mental healthcare.
“The government should realise that mental health is also important, especially during these unusual post-pandemic times, and the government should be speaking with the insurance companies to provide such coverage,” she said.
She said psychiatric care is provided in government hospitals but they are overloaded.
As an example, she referred an urgent suicidal case to the government hospital’s psychiatrist yesterday but the patient was given an appointment date in December.
“This is an urgent case because he is in danger of self-harm but they can only give him an appointment in December. What will happen to him between now and then?” she asked.
She said if insurance provides coverage for mental health treatments, then more people would be able to get the help they needed through the private healthcare system.
With insurance coverage, corporations and multinational companies (MNC) with group insurance coverage will also be able to provide this option to their employees.
She said many companies, including large MNCs, do not place any emphasis on providing mental health support to their employees, especially when many are now required to be present in their workplace physically.
“What a lot of people didn’t realise is that all these months of working from home can cause mental problems including a rise in domestic abuse,” she said.
She said every company has a human resource department to manage their employees but such staff are not trained counsellors to provide the emotional and mental support that some employees may need when they return to work.
“They may be feeling stressed to go back to work, either from fear of the virus, or being warned that they may be losing their job,” she said.
She said this could ultimately affect productivity of the workers if the companies do not look into it by providing a proper support system.
“They don’t have to set up a team of psychologists. What they can do is to provide a support system where their employees can go for counselling and be heard without being judged or belittled,” she said.
Synthia is also alarmed by an increasing number of domestic abuse cases in recent months where the victims do not know where to seek help.
“In the last three months, I have received 20 calls related to domestic abuse,” she said.
She said in many of these cases, they do not know how to get help and their children are often the silent victims as they are traumatised by the abuse they witnessed.
“They have no proper place to go to for help. Their only avenue is to lodge a police report and this is the last thing they want to do,” she said.
She said in many of these cases, the victims are working and when they return to work, they are suffering silently without any way of seeking help.
She suggested that MNCs and companies look into setting up counselling support or if they are unable to do so, work with qualified non-governmental organisations to provide the mental health care that their employees may need.