SHAH ALAM, July 28 — Mental health must not be taken lightly as illnesses such as depression affect large swathes of the population, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said today.
Dr Wan Azizah was referring to the Health Ministry's 2017 survey that found 18,336 of the 273,203 individuals who visited health and community clinics to be at varying stages of depression.
“Of these, 11,811 people were found to suffer from mild depression, 3,680 suffer from moderate depression and 1,682 suffer from severe depression,” she said in a speech at a mental health-focused convention for Muslim women at the KDU college campus here.
Dr Wan Azizah, who is also the women, family and community development minister, highlighted the growing mental health problem with the World Health Organization's record of over 800,000 reported suicide cases worldwide each year.
She also noted that experts have said 40 per cent of Malaysians are expected to suffer from mental health issues within their lifetime.
The Pandan MP pointed out the importance of ensuring one's mental well-being.
“If we look at our daily routine, I am sure that most of us would set aside a certain amount of time to participate in physical activities to maintain physical health.
“How many of us consciously put aside time to carry out activities to ensure mental health on a daily basis?” she asked.
“I think it's so important for us. Sometimes when I feel a lot of pressure, zikrullah is one of the things to calm me down,” she said, adding that the religious practice helped her “survive” until now.
Zikrullah involves religious recitations that some find to be soothing.
Dr Wan Azizah said many people live in denial when faced with mental health challenges, with some treating it as “taboo” or refusing to acknowledge it.
She said Malaysians are often reluctant to visit psychiatrists for fear of being labelled “mad”.
“Because in Malaysia it is a shame to admit you need help, so it's also like a face-saving issue that you can bear it all. But actually inside you need help,” she said.
“Some Muslims even interpret mental illnesses as a weakness of faith, and advise those who are vulnerable to simply pray more, fear Allah, or completely forget about their situations,” she said, before urging for the removal of such stigma and the offering of aid or a shoulder to cry on instead.
Dr Wan Azizah also expressed hope for mental health conferences to also be conducted in the Malay language so the message can reach audiences who may not be conversant in English, which was used in today's convention.
She also hoped that a supportive community towards those in need could be nurtured when the barriers of mental health ignorance is removed.
The one-day “Breaking Barriers” convention was organised by the International Mercy Mission Movement.