Open letter to government of Malaysia — Your Ears and Heart

JUNE 30 — All the current sudden changes in life from this national health crisis (i.e., loss of routine, social/ physical disconnection, and disruption of education) can be an additional pressure to our children and adolescents, and perhaps more to those with existing mental health conditions.

The number is sure to rise in this current situation which brings us perfectly to the next point. Help and assistance are essentially warranted in order for us to establish a proper support system which is easily accessible for our children and adolescents in Malaysia.

It is true that children's and adolescents' mental health was starting to receive the necessary awareness and resources. But such emphasis of mental health typically among children and adolescents in our beloved nation is far from well established.

Services are often overstretched and inconsistent across the country.

Referring to Malaysian Mental Healthcare Performance — Technical Report 2016 (released in December 2017), the density of psychiatrist serving the population was about 0.52 per 100,000 population.

To continue further, there were only 12 clinical psychologist providing services at the hospitals within Ministry of Health supported by a total of 49 counsellors till 2015. The density of these mental health professionals was 0.2 per 100,000 population. In actual fact, there were two states with no psychologist at all (i.e., Pahang and WP Labuan) by 2015.

This data depicts the urgency of our current situation; a severe lack of human resources (i.e., mental health professionals) to cater for the needs of our children and adolescents. With demand that is highly likely to surge, we need to start building the momentum to prioritise children and adolescent’s mental health to meet the scale of need.

While there are many sectors and organizations are quick to assist in improving this severe lack of mental health professionals in Malaysia, we believe that it is necessary and in fact, utmost important for the government of Malaysia to take the lead in rectifying this matter.

There remain gaps in infrastructure and funding which threaten the long-term sustainability of these efforts.

This is where the government of Malaysia must take a clear and coordinated approach to tackling the impact of the mental health on children and adolescents, launching a holistic plan that enables the growth and continuity of support.

Establish a succinct and feasible mental health service provision framework where it is not bounded by geographical and physical barriers (i.e., moving support online, and using innovative approaches to safe mental health service delivery).

Create openings for mental health professional positions to cater for the urgent need of children and adolescent's mental health services.

Establish a task force with the objectives to conduct research to capture an accurate and up-to-date prevalence rate of mental health conditions within the population of children and adolescents.

Review the successes and challenges to identify and address children and adolescent's mental health service gaps.

Map current children and adolescent's mental health services in Malaysia.

Reinforce the importance of ongoing, relevant professional development for relevant mental health professionals.

Coordinate and organise national campaign(s) to promote positive approaches for maintaining mental well-being among children and adolescents.

Provide mental health first aid training for teachers in schools within Ministry of Education’s purview, including identifying case severity for referral purposes.

Adopt a “young people’s well-being in all policies’ approach to future policy — making processes to address possible contributing factors which may worsen children and adolescent’s mental health state.

Include basic mental health education within school curriculum system that covers the inter-linkage between physical health and mental well-being.

Offer funding for the above suggestions to urgently increase children and adolescents, and families’ access to mental health support.

We are calling on the government of Malaysia to:

Children and adolescents determine the future of our nation. With such responsibilities riding on their backs, our wholehearted support in all aspects is absolutely needed.

In order to build a strong and resilient nation, we need to start by focusing on building our people, typically our young people in both their physical and mental well-beings.

Not a single aspect is to be neglected or overlooked as both play their important roles in developing ourselves, our children and adolescent, and our future.

* Your Ears and Heart is a small organisation which cares for our future generations.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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