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    Pandemic led to increase in mental health issues: minister

    Izah Azahari

    A survey completed among healthcare workers in Brunei during the COVID-19 pandemic found that nearly a quarter of government healthcare workers experience anxiety and depression. The pandemic led to an increase in mental health problems in high risk groups such as healthcare workers, said Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar.

    He also shared that the Talian Harapan 145, the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) mental health helpline, received increased numbers of calls year on year since starting the service in 2019, suggesting an increase in people seeking help for mental health problems in the community.

    “As a community, we should be working with each other to improve public awareness of the importance of good mental health. A significant component of building awareness is having the ability to discuss mental health in a helpful and positive way,” said the minister.

    He made these comments in a welcoming speech during the 1st National Mental Health Communication Workshop yesterday.

    The minister also said the topic of mental health has been avoided for too long due to stigma and a lack of knowledge or understanding of the complex issues surrounding mental health.

    The workshop held virtually via Zoom, saw the participation of over 90 individuals from the government and private sector.

    The minister said the importance of having good mental health and well-being has become increasingly apparent, particularly in the past few years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    ABOVE & BELOW: Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar; and Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Luke Arnold. PHOTOS: MOH/IZAH AZAHARI

    Some of the attendees during the workshop

    “As we all faced the challenges of dealing with a global health risk, the mental health implications became an increasingly urgent concern. It is clear that good mental health is essential not only for our individual well-being, but it is also essential for the well-being and prosperity of our communities,” he said.

    Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham noted with concern a 25 per cent increase in depression and anxiety reported by the World Health Organization in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic as loneliness, fear of infection, bereavement and financial worries, among other factors, contributed to this increase.

    He added that the workshop, therefore, aims to improve communication about mental health between individuals and groups in the community.

    “It is the ministry’s hope that by enabling positive discussion about mental health, we can all work together to make it easier to talk, and to find the support that we need to improve and protect our mental health. Indeed, talking about mental health should come as easily and as naturally as talking about our physical health,” said the minister.

    Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Luke Arnold in his welcoming remarks, highlighted the first bilateral senior officials’ talks between Australia and Brunei recently which explored priority areas for cooperation where mental health emerged as one of the top priorities for both countries.

    “One of the silver linings from COVID-19 is that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of looking after our mental health along with our physical health. The pandemic has also highlighted that cooperation across national borders is important in dealing effectively with other health issues,” said the high commissioner.

    He urged for the continuous sharing and learning of each others’ experiences in preventing and responding to mental ill health.

    “Australia looks forward to working with Brunei on its first National Mental Health Action Plan. We will also continue to support Brunei’s efforts to promote stronger mental health cooperation through ASEAN building on the East Asian Summit Leaders’ Statement on Mental Health Cooperation, an initiative 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 and the Prime Minister of Australia,” he added.

    The high commissioner said Australia, like Brunei, wants these high level commitments to flow into real impacts for the mental health of the people, as they have already supported initiatives aimed at that, including the ASEAN-Australia Youth Mental Health Dialogue in April and yesterday’s workshop.

    “We will continue to look for other ways to support efforts to boost mental health cooperation because ultimately, the well-being of our communities, countries and our shared Indo-Pacific region depends on it,” he said.

    The MoH, through the combined workforce of the Department of Psychiatry, the Community Psychology Division and Clinical Psychology Division, the Mental Health Strategy Unit at the Health Promotion Centre implemented the virtual workshop, participated by government officers, members of the media, school leaders and counsellors, private counselling services, bank officers, telecommunications companies and a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

    This workshop is a joint initiative between the MoH and Everymind, a leading NGO in Australia through one of their programmes, entitled ‘Mindframe’, which is a national programme that supports safe media reporting, filming and communication about suicide and mental ill health.

    The main takeaway and findings from the discussions at the workshop emphasised the importance of mental health awareness among family members, school members, workplaces and in the community to reduce stigma and improve mental health among the community. The MoH encourages the people and residents of Brunei Darussalam to prioritise the mental health and well-being of themselves and their family members and friends as a shared responsibility.

    The workshop is one of the activities organised in conjunction with the celebration of World Mental Health Day 2022 themed ‘Make mental health and personal well-being for all – a global priority’.

    This workshop is one of the activities that supports this goal by training and improving methods of delivering mental health messages safely and effectively, while addressing the stigma associated with discussing mental health issues.

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