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"Mental disorder is a flaw in Chemistry not character.
It is an illness, not a choice.
Recovery is not a sign of weakness, but strength."

WHAT IS A

MENTAL DISORDER?

 

The laymen equate mental disorder with ‘madness’, and often overlook the symptoms of the disease. Mental disorder is actually a medical condition. It is a common disease that affects a person’s thinking, emotion, behavior and also causes functional impairment.

Mental disorder refers to a wide range of mental health conditions. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental disorder when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect the ability to function.

A mental disorder can make a person miserable and can cause problems in their daily lives, such as at school or work or in relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and talk therapy (psychotherapy).

The disorder could take many forms. Some of the most common disorders are General Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Eating Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Panic Disorder. The most severe common mental disorder includes Schizophrenia, Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.


 

MENTAL DISORDER STATISTICS IN MALAYSIA

 

In the 28mil population of Malaysia, about 4.2mil are living with a mental disorder. Data from the 2017 National Health and Morbidity Survey revealed that 29% of Malaysians suffered from depression and anxiety disorders, a rise from 12 % from 2011. By 2020, mental disorder is the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart disease.

Every three in 10 adults aged 16 years and above in Malaysia suffer from some form of mental health issues.

The prevalence in Kuala Lumpur itself is 39.8%. The prevalence in adult females is slightly higher than in males but the difference is not significant (30.8% vs 27.6%).

Prevalence of mental health problems in
children: peer problem (32.5%), conduct
problems (16.7%), emotional problems
(e.g. anxiety, depression, 15.7%), pro-social skill (11.2%) and hyperactivity (4.6%).



 

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THE SOCIAL STIGMA ON
MENTAL DISORDER IN MALAYSIA

Mental health stigma involves people holding negative stereotypes towards those with mental health problems. This, in turn, can result in discrimination.

o   They are unable to care for themselves.
o   They live an unhealthy lifestyle.
o   Mental illness will affect the work and performance of an employee.
o   They are unpredictable and possibly aggressive.
o   They act weird and behave abnormally.
o   They are possessed by supernatural beings.
o   They cannot be responsible or trusted.
o   There’s something wrong with their genes.
o   Mental illness only happens to people who don’t have faith.
o   Mental illness is caused by a personal weakness.
o   Mental illness is incurable and lifelong.
o   Children do not experience mental health problems.
o   Mental illness is just a made-up thing of the mind.

 

THE CAUSE OF SOCIAL STIGMA ON MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER IN MALAYSIA
 

Individually
Problems of knowledge – ignorance.
Problems of attitudes – prejudice.
Problems of behavior – discrimination.


Community
Lack of education and awareness
As a whole, some of the causes that led to such negative stigma on mental disorder is low awareness, poor regulation especially within non-medical professionals as well as the lack of advocacy.


Misunderstanding due to cultural reasons
Much of the stigma we have towards mental health problems here in Malaysia stems from our cultural backgrounds, which are mostly dominated by religious or spiritual explanations. Many families, especially those in the rural communities still relate mental health problems with demon possession, divine punishment, sickness of the soul and others.

Media portrayal
In many instances, TV shows and movies do not present mental conditions in a
positive, or even sympathetic, light. In fact, characters with mental illness were often depicted as peculiar and dangerous. It is convenient to say the villain commits crimes because he or she is "crazy" without going into a nuanced explanation of mental health at all.


 

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THE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL STIGMA ON MENTAL DISORDER PATIENTS

Stigmatization can cause people to be prejudiced, fearful and mistrustful towards the vulnerable group. In extreme cases, they may even be violent towards this stigmatized group of people.

Stigma on those with mental health issues can be especially debilitating. Many will endure discrimination, and even self-stigmatize, where they internalize the negative stereotypes and perception of society. This will affect their sense of self-worth, self-esteem and their dignity, as well as reduce their quality of life.

The most serious impact is that they will not seek the help or treatment that they need, which will lead to more severe symptoms and affect their daily functioning, possibly resulting in more stigmatization. This is a vicious cycle that must be stopped.

Despite what many may think, most people who suffer from mental health conditions tend to recover, or are able to live with and manage them.

However, the journey of a person suffering from mental illness is not an easy one especially when there are many strong social stigmas attached to the condition.

For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain.

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ISSUES ON GETTING HELP
 

Mental disorder is an emerging issue in the country and should be taken seriously. However, due to insufficient number of psychiatrists there is not much avenue for those with mental issues.

The number of psychiatrists in Malaysia until March 2017 was only 381, namely from the
Ministry of Health (207), Public Universities (84), Private Universities (22), Armed Forces (5) and Private Sector (63).

Normal psychiatrist to population ratio is one per 10,000 but in Malaysia the ratio is 1 to 100,000.

Most people with mental disorders realise they have some sort of abnormality inside them, but they just take pain killers rather than going for proper assessment and seek treatment from psychiatrist

Though the problem could be treated at least within six months by undergoing proper
treatment, there is also a risk of the condition worsening or reaching serious level when not addressed accordingly.

 

PROPOSED INITIATIVES AGAINST NEGATIVE STIGMA IN MALAYSIA

With stigma of mental disorder demonstrating to be increasingly debilitating for people with mental health problems, initiatives should be taken to deter further complications.

Accessible Help
To start off, mental health professionals and the government need to strive to provide services that will best engage and treat all patients, especially young adults.Eliminating barriers is an important step for our society to progress towards a mental health stigma free community.

Wider advocacy
Initiatives against stigma may include various parties and different approaches. Education and awareness-raising are required to enable understanding and achieve higher tolerance and acceptance of mental disorders in wider society as one of the key strategies in addressing stigma of mental illness.

Policy and legislation
The law and policy are significant instruments in addressing stigma towards mental illness. In Malaysia, the Mental Health Act 2001, Mental Health Operational Services Policy 2011 and National Mental Health Policy 2013 are the current operational legislation and policies respectively. Although the policymakers are heading in the right direction, there are still many limitations that require attention.

Proper Use of Mass Media
Social learning theory suggests that learning is achieved not only through direct experience, but also through observation.Mass media plays a big role in shaping people’s expectations on society and our way of life, which then reflect public attitudes towards certain issues.

Stop Misrepresenting Characters
Cinematic stereotypes and media images of mental illness often identify people with mental illness as homicidal maniacs who need to be feared; weak characters who need to be held accountable; or someone with a child-like perception of the world who should be marveled at.This needs to stop.