THE WAY FORWARD IN DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS AND SUICIDE PREVENTION

 

Mental health has become a subject of intense discussion over recent years not only in Malaysia but also internationally due to the trend of increased mental health problems among adults from 10.7% in 1996 to 29.2% in 2015* (2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey-NHMS).

With the theme for World Mental Health Day being suicide prevention, the Centre for Psychological and Counselling Services (CPCS) under the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, HELP University (HU), organized a forum to engage and discuss the topic of suicide prevention with psychology students at HELP University.

Among the panelists were Mr. Bashir Bashardoost and Ms. Hasse De Meyer, both from the Department of Psychology, HU and Ms. Felicia Shamala, currently serving as a Clinical Psychologist from CPCS.

The moderator for the event, Ms. Sarah Yung, Director of CPCS, handled the many and varied questions from students who attended the forum, on the need to create awareness on mental health and the techniques used in dealing with those at high risk of committing suicide.

Sarah and Felicia spoke about the need for those struggling with mental health problems, to reach out to friends and – family whom they could trust for support. In response to questions from the floor regarding what the public could do if they or someone they knew were experiencing high suicidal tendencies and had planned to attempt suicide, Felicia responded that they could approach the emergency ward in any government or semi-government hospital for emergency mental health services.

Hasse, from Belgium shared her experiences while working in Belgium. That country currently has the 11th highest rate of suicide in the world and was the worst affected country in Western Europe for suicide (WHO, 2016).

“I think that in Belgium there is still a strong stigma on mental health issues and people generally do not talk about it. When they do reach out for help, they encounter long waiting lists and high financial costs (especially compared to medication) as there is limited insurance available for mental health when it comes to psychotherapy “ said Hasse at the forum.

Bashir, commented that the underlying reason for suicide was primarily loneliness, a sense of guilt and a capacity for suicide.

Sarah was of the opinion that today there is much more awareness in society and the community at large. However, attached to mental illness is the stigmatization and this can be a heavy burden for those at high risk of taking their own lives.

The stigma against those with mental health problems has been known to contribute to people being reluctant to seek help for themselves.

The Centre for Psychological and Counselling Services, (CPCS), is located at both HELP Academy, Wisma HELP, KL and in Subang 2. It was established in 2006 as an outreach programme for staff and students of HELP and also members of the public to seek help for their mental health problems. Its main purpose is to promote psychological and emotional well-being by providing professional counseling and clinical psychotherapy to those in need. The center also runs workshops and seminars on issues related to emotional health and psychological well-being.

In a year, the center serves between 300 -500 active clients, including members of the public, staff and HELP students. Assessments for special needs children, as well as adults, are also part of the services provided. For instance parents concerned with children with behavioral problems and displaying special needs such as autism, developmental delay and such may request for mental ability testing and other assessments to be conducted.

The two CPCS centres share 4 therapists composed of 2 Clinical Psychologists and 2 Counsellors and also serves as training ground for those completing their clinical practicum during the course of their Masters in Clinical Psychology as well as the Masters in Counselling at HELP. Most of those who register at CPCS are students and during HELP ‘s department orientation for students, CPCS staff usually attend the events and speak to students on the importance of mental health and the avenues available to them should they choose to seek help.

Sarah, who was appointed as the Director of CPCS in 2019 said more members of the public were signing up with CPCS, and even HELP students, when they realized how easy it is to gain access to the services offered by the center.

“The most common problems among students seem to be stress and anxiety, family issues and issues of personal concern such as love, life and friendships,” said Sarah.

Additionally, CPCS has over the years also been running training programmes and workshops on crisis intervention and training for NGOs and other organizations interested in such specialized programmes.

Dr Gerard J. Louis, CEO of HELP Education Services and Dean of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Education and Languages said HELP University currently houses the largest Department of Psychology in the country. Dr. Gerard is himself a Counseling Psychologist and is passionate about contributing to promoting mental health in the country. Dr Gerard said World Mental Health Day serves as an important event in the annual calendar of activities for involved in outreach programmes to double their efforts in engaging the public so as to provide support to those in need from all sectors of the community ranging from young children to adults and the elderly.

The motto of the Faculty Behavioral Sciences is “Understanding Minds, Empowering Lives”. So apart from academia, HELP also conducts research in increasing awareness on mental health and as well as access to mental health services. The Faculty is currently in the final stages of launching a center that will collaborate with different organizations in the country overseeing the development emotional and psychological health and well-being to drive research in areas such as resilience, coping with stress and studying protective and risk factors related to emotional well-being. Associate Professor, Dr Marc Archer, from the Department of Psychology, HU said that mental health problems can progress to mental illness if not addressed. Thus his research is to develop interventions that could increase access to mental health services and also universalize the understanding around mental health and provide those in need with skills to cope. Dr. Archer will be spearheading the research work of this research and development center at HELP.