By DR KELVIN YII
COMMENT: I urge the Federal and State governments to address the urgent need for more clinical psychologists in Sarawak especially in the government hospitals around Sarawak to meet the growing numbers of mental health patients, largely due to the increasing stressful lifestyles which could cause anxiety and depression, and eventually lead to suicide.
I welcome Abang Johari Tun Openg, the Chief Minister’s pledge to increase the allocation to the Ministry of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development to create awareness of mental health problems among the people. However in order to better deal with issue, besides awareness, we need to treat and provide better treatment options for our people with regards to mental health.
There are a growing number of people succumbing to depression and mental illness in our country. Recently, a research carried out by the Malaysian Psychiatric Association showed a 50% increase of depression from 2011 to 2015. And studies have also shown that the risk of suicide increases for those with mental illness.
According to the National Registry Suicide Malaysia in October 2014, 60 people committed suicide every month and experts have anticipated that by 2020, depression will be a major mental health illness which Malaysians will suffer from.
On the 12 September 2016, the Health Ministry statistics revealed a worsening state of mental health problems among Malaysian students, from one in 10 individuals in 2011 to one in five in 2016. Similarly, in Sarawak, we hear and know of cases where mental illness has caused the breakdown of family units and is the cause of crimes committed and so forth.
In Malaysia, the issue is that in government hospitals where instead of creating positions for Clinical Psychologists, positions of Counselors of “ahli-ahli psikologi’ were increased with the assumption that they have the same skill set. However, the level of training is different. A Clinical psychologist will need a Masters in order to practise and they are taught to give psychotherapy in ways even a Psychiatrist may not be fully trained.
Clinical Psychologists will complement and help psychiatrists with their diagnosis by their primary skills of administering and interpretation of standardized psychological tests and they are also involved to a certain extent in treatment and psychotherapy. They have the skill set to not only treat psychological disorders but also to investigate, screen and advice or give recommendations for the best treatment of clients which was referred to them by physicians, surgeons, medical practitioners, social workers, nurses, or lawyers.
In many of the cases in our government hospitals, oral medications are dispensed to a majority, if not all of the cases, without the option of counselling and psychotherapy.
Oral medication in severe and chronic cases, as well as to alleviate psychiatric symptoms and to regulate chemical imbalance in the brain is necessary. However, there are circumstances especially for younger patients when an option of psychotherapy and counselling provided by a clinical psychologist may be helpful to address the root cause of the issue rather than just to medicate the patient.
Our psychiatrist and counselors in the hospitals are doing their best, however they may not have the full capacity or training to do what a clinical psychologist is trained to do. Currently, as far as I am aware, our government hospitals in Sarawak have no clinical psychologists compared to the bigger hospitals in the Klang Valley.
I thus appeal to the respective governments to look into the issue and address the need for clinical psychologist in the State. If we want to be a happy and healthy State, it is thus important to take the proactive step to provide better treatment for our people on top of creating better awareness.
• Dr Kelvin Yii is Special Assistant Chong Chieng Jen, Member of Parliament for Kuching and DAP Sarawak chairman.