Shame, discrimination fear prevent people from seeking help on mental health

James Kon

The BruHIMS electronic health record system being used in all government clinics and hospitals has registered more than 3,000 cases of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder among the local population in 2020, along with nearly 4,000 cases of psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.

This year, Talian Harapan 145 received over 200 calls per month from the public, while psychiatric services at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital registered up to 40 new cases from adult patients every month, with nearly 600 follow-up cases monthly.

Psychiatric services for children and teenagers registered nearly 100 new cases from January to September this year, with more than 600 follow-up cases in the same period, while the Psychology Services has detected between 400 and 600 cases every month.

The growing number of mental health cases among the local community was highlighted by Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar yesterday in his message for the World Mental Health Day.

He said, “World Mental Health Day is celebrated globally on October 10 each year. The celebration is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in raising awareness on issues related to mental health.

“This year’s theme for the celebration is ‘Mental Health For All. Greater Investment – Greater Access’. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major worldwide topic this year. Despite the pandemic affecting physical health and infecting millions of individuals globally, there has also been a broader impact toward mental health, due to an increase in the levels of anxiety, worry, depression and social isolation.

“Alhamdulillah, the Government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has consistently invested in providing universal health coverage and increased the quality of health services to all citizen and residents of this country. This includes universal coverage for mental health in the form of various resources, including the cooperation of health professionals.

“Citizens and residents of Brunei have easy access to mental health services nationwide, including the Talian Harapan 145, walk-in psychology clinics at RIPAS Hospital and health centres nationwide.”

“In an emergency situation, the emergency department in all four of the district hospitals is also one of the centres to get assistance for mental healthcare. People who need more specialised care can obtain assistance by referring to a mental health expert including a psychiatric doctor, nurse, psychologist, medical welfare officer and occupational therapists working in hospitals, health centres and in the community.”

He also revealed that there has been a significant investment made by His Majesty’s Government in expanding the range of mental health services, which now include psychiatric services for patients admitted to hospital and outpatient clinics; psychology services; psychiatric services children and teenagers; psychiatric services for senior citizens; psychiatric services for wards in general hospitals; psychiatric services for the community, including visits to homes and community clinics; and forensic clinic services for prison and psychiatric rehabilitation centres.

But despite the easily accessible mental health services in Brunei Darussalam, the minister said shame and fear of discrimination often prevent individuals from seeking much-needed help.

He also disclosed that the Psychology and Psychiatric Services, in cooperation with the Health Promotion Centre, has been holding frequent campaigns and events in the past several years, including forums, talks and exhibitions on mental health.

In conjunction with World Mental Health Day this year, the Ministry of Health, together with stakeholders from the private sector and contributions from the community, will organise a number of events such as mental health awareness exhibition; mental health forums; the Mental Health Awareness Virtual Run 2020: 10/30/50km Run, Walk, Hike or Cycle Challenge organised by the Board of Visitors for Psychiatric Services at RIPAS Hospital; and the opening of a daily Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre contributed by the Board of Visitors for Psychiatric Services at the Suri Seri Begawan Hospital, Kuala Belait.

“Members of the public are encouraged to participate in the planned activities and to offer their support in raising awareness for mental health,” said the minister.

“Insya Allah, by improving discussions on mental health among the community, this should further boost awareness and unify support for mental health in Brunei Darussalam. This is because addressing mental health is not only the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, but also a shared responsibility.

“All levels of society must pay serious attention to mental health, since it affects many aspects of our lives. Therefore, we all need to take care of our own mental health. It is very encouraging when society shows an interest in discussing mental health and possesses the initiative to raise awareness on the importance of mental health in Brunei Darussalam. I hope this commitment and interest will continue to grow, towards jointly addressing issues related to mental health in this country.”