Girl’s suicide seen as wake-up call for better mental health services

Galen’s Azrul Mohd Khalib says the tragedy was a wake-up call on the inadequacy of mental health services.

PETALING JAYA: The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy has dismissed calls for the tightening of online laws and the monitoring of children’s internet use as knee-jerk reactions to the suicide of a teenager in Sarawak.

The think tank’s CEO, Azrul Mohd Khalib, told FMT the people making such calls were probably ignoring the bigger issue of whether mental health services in the country were adequate.

“We need to take an honest and realistic view of what our mental health services are able to offer, whether they meet needs and if people know how to access them,” he said.

“This is not about a social media platform being used to contemplate suicide, nor monitoring internet use or introducing new restrictive legislation.”

He was commenting on reactions to news about a 16-year-old girl who jumped to her death from the third floor of a building in Kuching after the majority of respondents to her Instagram poll supported her decision to kill herself.

Azrul said the tragedy was a wake-up call on the inadequacy of mental health services.

He pointed to studies showing that a third of adult Malaysians may be living with diagnosable mental disorders and said the number of mental health specialists was “extremely small”, especially in the public sector.

The few treatment services available were concentrated in urban areas, he added.

He said Putrajaya should look into the matter urgently and provide sufficient funding to support these services. “It’s possible that we do not know how much needs to be allocated and how wide the funding gap is,” he added.

He called for coverage of mental health care in all insurance plans.

He also suggested that public and private organisations conduct campaigns to fight discrimination against those with mental health issues and to seek the removal of the stigma associated with mental disease.

Clinical psychologist Chua Sook Ning agreed with Azrul’s call for an adequate budget for mental health.

She noted that high-income countries would typically spend more than 5% of their yearly health budgets for mental health.

She said one of the current areas of priority for Malaysia should be the training of mental health specialists.

The World Health Organisation has recommended investing in prevention and intervention programmes for depression, psychosis and substance abuse.

In its election campaign, Pakatan Harapan pledged that more government resources would be channelled to mental health care through government hospitals. Its Buku Harapan mentions human resources and insurance coverage.

Chua also called for the design of awareness programmes to address mental health problems and the accessibility of early intervention.

Commenting on the girl’s suicide, she said “there were underlying causes” and “we need to learn to be a compassionate community. Families also need to be supported psychologically.”

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo has also commented on the suicide. He spoke of the possibility of amending the Communications and Multimedia Act to improve enforcement against cyberbullying and suicide attempts.