The Pakatan Harapan Health Committee urges the Federal Government to prioritise Mental Health measures as a national public health priority and implement the necessary policy responses as well as systemic solutions to save Malaysians from the mental anguish that Covid-19 is causing to avert a mental health crisis in our country.
In an official statement by Bukit Aman Criminal Investigations Department (CID) director Abdul Jalil Hassan on the 1st July 2021, the police recorded 468 suicide cases in Malaysia in the first five months this year, up from an annual total of 631 cases in 2020 and 609 in 2019. This means three deaths by suicide occurred nationwide daily on average this year up to May — amid economically devastating lockdowns as the Covid-19 epidemic surged — almost double the 1.7 rate last year and in 2019.
On top of that, a study of 1,163 respondents by Universiti Malaya entitled “Escalating progression of mental health disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic” showed a consistent increase in the prevalence of depressive, anxiety and stress symptoms across four different movement control orders (MCO) in Malaysia. The highest rate of depressive and anxiety symptoms was recorded at 59.2 percent and 55.1 percent respectively, between August and September 2020.
The Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) recorded a more than two-fold increase in people seeking help related to stress throughout 2020 compared to 2019.
In 2020, one in three calls that Befrienders received were suicidal in nature, as compared to one out of 10 calls in 2018. The government’s psychosocial hotline recorded 37,709 calls between April and September 2020, half of them related to emotional distress worsened by the pandemic and MCO.
These statistics paint a clear picture of deterioration of mental health over time in our country exacerbated by the failure of the current government to control the spread of Covid-19.
That is why the committee urges the government to implement the necessary policy and law amendments.
(1) Decriminalise Attempted Suicide Section 309 of the Penal Code, which makes attempted suicide a crime must be repealed as well as charges against those who have survived suicide attempts be dropped. An immediate moratorium be imposed against the move to punish suicide survivors from now onwards until law is repealed.
This is important to make sure survivors are given the necessary treatment and support rather than be treated as a criminal. They will then be more willing to come forward for treatment and the stigma associated with mental illness will be addressed more holistically.
(2) Increase resources and expand the current mental healthcare system to be more resilient to manage this crisis. Easier and greater access to mental healthcare, through cutting down bureaucracy is important including widespread use of telehealth for services like counselling, psychotherapy, medication management and vocational interventions must be developed.
MENTARI and other community-based services must be empowered and expanded to improve outreach and re-integration of people with mental health problems.
More psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, and trained counsellors must be recruited and mobilised from the private sector and civil society to help with the national mental health approach including upskilling them to implement a more extensive Mental Health Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) outreach to those in need including our front liners that are burning out due to prolonged battle with Covid-19.
They also should be empowered to train more members of the public on the fundamentals of Mental Health First Aid in order to reach a greater segment of the population as well as increase “mental health gatekeepers” or counsellors in every community.
(3) The Government must address the core economic concerns of the people including strengthening the social protection and wage support system to address the current main risk factors of mental health issues.Urgent, comprehensive, targeted, and flexible measures to support vulnerable groups like those in the informal economy and areas highly affected by the pandemic must be implemented immediately.
Cash assistance including the Bantuan Khas Covid-19 (BKC) under the PEMULIH must be distributed immediately without the need to wait all the way until August to address the current urgent economic need of the people. However, in the end, a long-term recovery plan should be crafted to maximise the economic impact of such stimulus.
We further reiterate the importance of mitigating the mental health effects of Covid-19 even with the increasing cases of Covid-19 cases in recent months. While it may be easy to overlook the invisible mental health aspect of this pandemic, this unseen crisis can not only worsen the physical pandemic of Covid-19, but also may be even more catastrophic to our country’s well being and productivity in the long term.
Members of Pakatan Harapan Health Committee :-
a) YB Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (Ahli Parlimen Kuala Selangor, AMANAH)
b) YB Dr Lee Boon Chye (Ahli Parlimen Gopeng, KEADILAN)
c) YB Dr Ong Kian Ming (Ahli Parlimen Bangi, DAP)
d) YB Datuk Wira Dr Mohd Hatta Md Ramli (Ahli Parlimen Lumut, AMANAH)
e) YB Dr Kelvin Yil (Ahli Parlimen Bandar Kuching, DAP)
f) YB Sim Tze Tzin (Ahli Parlimen Bayan Baru, KEADILAN)
g) YB Alice Lau (Ahli Parlimen Lanang, DAP)
h) YB Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud (Exco Kerajaan Negeri Selangor)
i) YB Dr Norlela Ariffin (Exco Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang)
j) YB Veerapan Supramaniam (Exco Kerajaan Negeri Sembilan)
k) Ybhg Dr Niekmah Adam (AWAN, AMANAH)
l) Ybhg Dr Zaliha Mustafa (MPP, KEADILAN)