Mental health awareness rising in Brunei

James Kon

With this year’s World Mental Health Day themed ‘Mental Health For All. Greater Investment – Greater Access’, Head of Psychiatry Services at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital Dr Hilda Ho urged people to speak out more about mental health issues to raise awareness and understanding among the local community.

In an interview with the Sunday Bulletin, Dr Ho said, “We want people to feel comfortable about seeking help and we urge the community to be more supportive of one another as well as to normalise discussion on mental health issues.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented event and we have to cope with it as best as we could. What we noticed is that Talian Harapan 145 has a spike in calls. Talian Harapan usually gets around an average of 200 calls per month. However in March and April, we had around 300 calls per month.

“We know the public is more anxious and we also received calls from people in isolation under quarantine. This is not unexpected. If you are anxious in a pandemic, you should be. It is a normal response. We are trying to help people manage it until they feel better.

“We welcome the public to contact Talian Harapan for advice and information on where to get help. Thankfully, COVID-19 is under control in Brunei Darussalam and people feel reassured.”

A World Mental Health Day celebration was held at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital yesterday. Photo shows Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar cutting a cake to mark the event as Head of Psychiatry Services at RIPAS Hospital Dr Hilda Ho looks on
Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar places his signature in support of Mental Health for All Virtual Run, Walk, Hike or Cycle. PHOTOS: JAMES KON

Touching on stigma of seeking mental health help or treatment, she said, “The scene in Brunei has changed significantly in the past five years. There used to be no or very little discussion of mental health issues. This was because people felt ashamed and avoided talking about it.

“What we noticed in the past five years is more interest on mental health worldwide and people are much more aware of it. We noticed it on social media and in person-to-person conversation. There is more openness on mental health. The younger generation is especially more comfortable talking about mental health. We want this acceptance to be across the society because we should normalise discussions on mental health.

“We are encouraged to see there is a rise in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community groups on mental health. We also saw a rise in corporations in the country approaching us to deliver talks on mental health.

“We are training people to use proper language to support and help others like ‘How can I help you, how can I support you.’ It is important to have care, support and understanding.”

She advised parents to talk to their children and listen to them. She said, “We are getting feedback that students in schools are stressed. If your child is expressing feelings of depression or stress, there is no need to panic. It doesn’t necessarily mean mental illness. Parents can speak to their child first and ask how they are doing. Many issues can be addressed just by showing some care and by communication.”

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar officiated the World Mental Health Day celebration at RIPAS Hospital yesterday.

Several activities were held like conversation with professionals, pop-up shops as well as quizzes on mental health and an exhibition. The exhibition provided information for the public to seek support, help and treatment as well as introduced psychiatric services which are available.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health (MoH) Haji Abdul Manap bin Othman and Deputy Permanent Secretary (Professional) at the MoH Dr Haji Zulaidi bin Haji Abdul Latif were also present.