Sabah’s youngest ever state minister to tackle mental health issues

Ginger Phoong (middle) clocking in for the first time as Sabah youth and sports minister.

KOTA KINABALU: Ginger Phoong became Sabah’s youngest ever full minister when he was sworn in as the state youth and sports minister yesterday.

His appointment comes at a time when the issue of mental health among the young is at the forefront, with the recent suicide of a 16-year-old girl in Sarawak hitting the headlines.

The 30-year-old Luyang assemblyman agrees that depression among the youth is on the rise in Malaysia, including in Sabah.

Phoong said just like federal Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, he is concerned with issues pertaining to the younger generation’s mental state.

He said tackling this would be one of his priorities.

“Sadly, there is a serious lack of mental health awareness in Sabah. Poor mental health can lead to serious consequences and affect the overall quality of life among our youth,” he told FMT.

Phoong was named as the replacement to former minister Frankie Poon who was appointed as the Sabah health and people’s well-being minister. Poon himself was appointed to that post following the death of Sabah DAP chief Stephen Wong on March 28.

Despite his age and lack of experience, Phoong is confident that he is the man for the job, using his youthfulness to relate better to the young and effectively drive home the message that life is priceless.

“I hope to bring this message through implementing policies that focus on improving overall well-being among the youth. I will, of course, work closely with other relevant ministries such as the health and education ministries, and share resources to come up with plans that can improve the overall well-being of our youth,” he said.

The Sabah DAP publicity secretary believes improving sporting and recreational facilities is one way to handle the matter.

“I have already implemented a project to fix all the basketball courts in my area as well as raise mental health awareness through talks and workshops which promote help-seeking behaviour and some basic stress-coping skills,” Phoong said.

He plans to strengthen the family institution while also fighting cyber-bullying.

“Yes, family values and communication breakdown can be one of the factors. But there are also others such as bullying, including cyber-bullying, that young people experience in school and incidents like break-ups and parental divorce.

“All these could lead to mental health issues such as depression if one does not receive sufficient support from friends or family, or seek help from professionals.”