Holistic approach more effective in treating mental illness, say experts

KUALA LUMPUR (BERNAMA) – The fear of being stigmatised by society is pushing people with mental disorders to seek the services of traditional healers.

According to Dr Mohd Azhar Mohd Yasin, a psychiatrist at Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia (Hospital USM) in Kubang Kerian, Kelantan, a survey he had carried out showed that about 60 per cent of patients suffering from psychiatric disorders consulted traditional healers before seeking medical help when their condition worsened.

“Many mentally ill patients who seek treatment at hospitals have actually tried healing as well to treat their condition.

“To treat mental ailments more effectively, a comprehensive treatment module encompassing spiritual and biological elements and psychiatric care is needed,” Dr Mohd Azhar told Bernama.

In 2008, he carried out a study titled ‘The Pathway to Health Care’, involving patients suffering from schizophrenia and epilepsy, to determine the time period and treatment pathway taken by the respondents before they sought treatment at a hospital.

His findings showed that on average, it took the respondents 24 months to seek hospital treatment.

As for their initial treatment pathway, 61.7 per cent of them sought the services of traditional healers, 24.2 per cent went directly to the hospital while 14.1 per cent sought the services of doctors at private clinics. In comparison, the epilepsy patients sought treatment at hospitals faster than schizophrenic patients, according to the findings.

The study also noted that the socioeconomic status was also among the factors that contributed to the delay in seeking proper medical care as many people in the low-income group frequented traditional healers.

Dr Mohd Azhar said Hospital USM treats mental illness using the “biopsychosocial and spiritual” model, which is a holistic approach comprising biological (medicine), psychological (counselling), social support and spiritual elements.

“Islamic medicine is an important element of the spiritual aspect of the treatment and is appropriate in this hospital in view of the religious backgrounds of most of our patients here,” he said.

Hospital USM allows its patients to seek the services of Islamic healers and it is seen as complementing their medical (biological) treatment, he said, adding that the combination has a positive effect on healing.

Dr Mohd Azhar said the use of complementary therapies was also appropriate with the hospital’s Islamic-friendly status.

Currently, however, the use of Islamic healing practices has yet to be formalised in hospitals in the country. Academic studies have to be done to obtain scientific proof of the efficacy of Islamic medicine for the treatment of mental disorders, which will then provide more scope for Islamic healing practitioners to fulfil their responsibilities, he added.

Concurring that both biological and spiritual elements are necessary in the treatment of mental illness, Universiti Malaya Academy of Islamic Studies Senior Lecturer Dr Rushdi Ramli said many of those who sought treatment at Islamic medical centres suffered from depression, phobias, anxiety attacks and schizophrenia.