Mental illness is on the rise in the Sultanate with anxiety disorder cases rising from 1,515 in 2021 to 1,637 in 2022 and depression and bipolar disorder showing a similar trend, Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar said.
The data is based on patients who have sought treatment at health centres thus it is likely that there are more people with mental illness yet to receive medical attention due to stigma, he said.
The minister said this in a keynote presentation titled ‘Mental Health towards the Welfare of Ummah’ at the Regional Seminar on Mental Health 2023 at the International Convention Centre, Berakas yesterday.
Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham said a survey of 312 health personnel in the Sultanate during the COVID-19 outbreak found 21.5 per cent with depression or anxiety disorder, 85.3 per cent with medium to high levels of burnout and 2.24 per cent with suicidal ideation.
The minister said the rate of mental disorder is higher among youth, women, single individuals, locals and those with previous mental health problems.
“People with mental illness do not choose to be ill,” the minister said, “The situation, environment and people around are contributors to emotional pressure and stress. When it becomes uncontrollable or unbearable, and when there is no safeguard like family support and medical intervention, depression can worsen until it endangers one’s life.”
Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham then cited two cases.
The first was a 43-year-old female teacher who was referred to the psychiatric centre. She had a three-year-old child with different abilities, an unemployed husband who was a drug addict. She was also a domestic abuse victim.
She had a colleague who she confided in but the colleague passed away three months ago.
Since then, she had several episodes of breathing difficulty and chest pain. Due to the symptoms, she went to the emergency department at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital and no health issues were found despite several checks. She started finding it hard to drive and work due to the symptoms and had worries about dying or getting a heart attack.
She was then referred to the psychology clinic and were given several therapy sessions. She learnt that the symptoms were due to anxiety disorder and panic attacks. The teacher was also referred to the Community Development Department to help with her child and domestic issue.
Another case was a 15-year-old boy who suffered from mental health issues after his grandmother passed away.
His parents reported to school that he locked himself in his room, refused food, would not sleep and could be heard crying on numerous occasions.
After meeting a doctor at a health centre, he was diagnosed with depression and was referred to a psychiatrist for treatment.
He was on antidepressant and was given regular appointments at the clinic.
The parents were told to spend more time with him and encouraged to have regular physical workout as well as a counsellor to ease him back to school.
After six months of treatment, the boy was back to school four times a week and passed his tests as well as appeared cheerful.
The minister said mental health issues can affect an individual regardless of age, race and gender.
The causes may be life experiences such as childhood trauma, loneliness, lack of social exposure, living with chronic illness, job loss, loss of a loved ones, drug addiction or domestic abuse, he said.
Stresses can become difficult to control and may lead to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder or psychosis, the minister said.