The Malaysian National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS) revealed a drastic two-fold increase in the number of mental health patients from ten years ago, with one in every three Malaysian adults struggling with mental health issues.

However, the sudden spike is not exclusive to Malaysia, instead, is consistent with the global trend.

“Most mental illnesses don’t improve on their own and, if left untreated, may get worse and cause other serious problems,” said Deputy director-general of health Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, stressing that failure to address the issue would prove damaging.

Depression No.2 in global ranking of disabilities

The survey conducted in 2015 revealed that 4.2 million out of 14.4million citizens aged 16 years and above were struggling with mental issues. The rising incidence of suicide rates, especially in the bigger cities, is a growing concern, with the three most common causes identified being financial issues, environmental pressure and stress for not being able to meet expectations.

A total of 425 suicide cases were reported last year.

Depression has surpassed disability due to cardiovascular disease, and is now ranked second in the world. “It is expected to rank No.1 by 2020,” according to Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj Chandrasekaran.

“Gender discrimination, overwork, domestic violence and sexual abuse are the main problems they face,” said Lokman of mental health issues in Malaysian women, adding that socially-defined roles, similar to many parts of the world, do not help alleviate the problem.

According to Lokman, the public should alert of the red flags of mental problems, which include constant feelings of irritation or sadness, difficulty in concentration, excessive feelings of fear and worry, becoming withdrawn and adopting a drastic change in eating and sleeping habits.

Symptoms of advanced stages of mental problems would include suicidal thoughts and hallucinations, he added.

“When they notice these signs, they should seek medical attention,” Lokman stressed.

Picking up bad habits to cope with mental stress

According to senior consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Toh Chin Lee, adults generally suffer from depressive and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia as well as substance abuse, adding that underlying medications such as genetic problems could trigger depression.

“Depression is a disorder that can be easily treated. But those with severe depression or those who do not respond to first-line treatments will need to seek specialist help,” he said.

According to Toh, many cope with depression by adopting unfavourable habits such as smoking or consuming alcohol.

“Nictoine in cigarettes provides a short-term relief from stress. Then the relief wears off, and the ‘rebound’ effect kicks in to increase the stress level higher than before,” he explained.

The Health Ministry’s Mental Health Unit head, Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim, also agreed that extreme cases of poor mental health could lead to substance and alcohol abuse.

“People with poor mental health may resort to negative coping skills that can manifest as substance abuse, violence, isolation and eating disorders,” she said.

“These types of coping strategies can hurt social relationships, make pre-existing problems worse and, in worst-case scenario, lead to suicide.” MIMS

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