By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Malaysia has been often performed poorly in international competitiveness rankings, but in one negative ranking which it could do without, it could be numbered among the top, viz in mental illness.
According to a survey, 10.6% of the population suffered from mental health problems in 1999 and it rose to 11.2% in 2006, with 6.4% having considered committing suicide.
In other words, 11 out of every 100 Malaysians have mental health problems. Such a data would usually be seen in advanced countries, but why are more and more Malaysians facing mental health problems and more and more young people are considering suicide even though we are living comfortably in a developing country without natural disaster?
According to the Health Ministry, the rising number of young people facing mental health problems is alarming. Hence, the Health Ministry has teamed up with the Education Ministry to jointly launch a pilot project in four secondary schools to identify and address the situation. Similar projects will also be implemented at workplaces.
There is a term called "stress test" in banking. The stress test is conducted based on an assumption that if the asset prices fall, a large number of people will not be able to service their loans, causing the surge in bad debts. The test is to find out whether a bank is able to overcome the difficulties with its existing financial capacity.
A stress test was conducted in European banks last year, and seven banks failed the test.
Of course, the stress resistance test in schools and workplaces will not inhumanely lock the target group in a dark room for physical and psychological tortures. Also, humans are not machines and therefore, the stress resistance level of the target group cannot be calculated based only on external observation and by asking them a few questions.
I have no doubt in the professionalism of counsellors, however, if the big environment is not improved and the people's decompression ability is not enhanced, mental illnesses can never be reduced.
I have tried to analyse based on the developments of the country and society to see why 440,227 people, an increase by 15.6% compared to 2009, have been sent to government hospitals for mental illness treatments last year.
First, innate dispositions determine the fate. The government has been providing subsidies for necessities over all these years and the public can survive even without a high income. Major government policies also maintain the jobs and livelihoods of the people.
Perhaps it is such a comfortable life that has made the people optimistic and do not know how to get prepared for bad situations. As a result, price hikes and increasing economic pressures in recent years have made many people confused and overwhelmed by stress.
Cheap subsidised food, especially sugar, has caused the people to eat without restraint, causing much weight increase among them. As a result, they suffer from various chronic diseases that require long-term treatment.
Schools do not teach students how to cope with difficulties and release pressure. Instead, there are countless tests and examinations. Together with the increasingly high expectations from parents, the seed of depression is planted in the children. If they are unhappy when they are young, they would not be happy when they grow up.
The high number of mental illness sufferers aged between 16 and 19, and those aged between 70 and 74 years is totally understandable.
The high number for the 16 and 19 age range is because of problems related to further education, work and love affair. As for the 70 and 74 age range, it is because of loneliness, illness and the fear for death.
It is not rare to smile during good times but it will certainly be great if we can also laugh at ourselves during bad times. Sickness and death are inevitable process of life. We must learn how to take things easy and let go. As politicians are busy fighting for power, we must know how to help ourselves.
Sin Chew Daily