Develop liveable housing schemes to address mental health issues of PPR children - Experts
KUALA LUMPUR - Dr Norhayati Mohd Noor has been receiving no less than three stress-related cases a month involving children residing in low-cost high-rise schemes in the Klang Valley, developed under the People’s Housing Programme (PPR), since she started conducting family counselling and psychoeducational programmes 12 years ago.
Norhayati, who is also a senior lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Genius@Pintar Negara Foundation Programme, said the parents who sought her services told her they were worried about their children as they did not want to go to school and were rebellious and also seemed unhappy and withdrawn.
Her meetings with the children concerned found that most of them were bogged down by pressure due to their unconducive living environment, cramped living quarters and lack of facilities for sports and recreational activities.
"Most of their parents were not aware their children were feeling stressed because their (parents’) lives were similar too when they were young... for instance, living with large families.
"I concluded, however, they (parents) lacked empathy because the low-cost housing environment they lived in was different then... for example, even though their houses were small, recreational areas were available unlike now where space is limited and there’s no place for children to play,” she told Bernama.
Sharing the case of a 10-year-old boy who lived in a PPR scheme, Norhayati said he was stressed out as his parents and neighbours would scold him each time he and his friends wanted to play a game like football.
Since there was no playground or field near the flats they lived in, they had no choice but to play inside their homes or the corridor which angered their neighbours.
"Some PPR schemes are provided with space for recreation but they are usually filled with the adult residents, leaving the children feeling stressed and unhappy.
"From a psychological point of view, children are naturally inclined to play and have fun which shapes their emotional and social well-being. In fact, studies have shown that children who play less tend to be more vulnerable to mental stress,” she added.
Incidentally, a recent study carried out by the Ministry of Health’s Institute for Health Behavioural Research and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) revealed that 13.4 percent of adolescents and children living in PPR schemes in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur had thoughts of suicide and self-harm while over 12.3 percent experienced mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
The study involved 1,578 children aged between 10 and 17 residing in 37 PPR schemes.
Meanwhile, commenting on why PPR children tend to lose interest in school, Norhayati said due to the limited space in their homes they usually don’t have their own table and chair to do their homework or study.
Not only that, it can get rather noisy too due to the narrow corridors and thin walls separating the residential units, making it difficult for the children to focus on their schoolwork.
"However, I’ve seen PPR children trying to work hard to achieve good results so that they can get a place in a fully-residential school and get out of their congested homes,” she said.
On the PPR adolescents’ suicidal tendencies, the experienced counsellor said there are various contributing factors among them being their economic state and the financial problems faced by their parents.
"They often feel unhappy and inferior when they compare themselves to their friends whose families are well-off,” she said.
According to Norhayati, there is a marked difference between living in a kampung and PPR scheme. Kampung communities are homogeneous, that is, they share similar social status, but PPR residents are heterogeneous as they hail from different income groups.
Describing the well-being of PPR residents as an issue that needs to be addressed effectively, she said for children and adolescents, healthy psychological development is crucial in order to produce emotionally, physically and mentally stable human capital.
"It’s not just the mental health issues of the teenagers and children that is worrying us... but its impact on the well-being of the people around them also needs to be considered.
"This is because mental problems don’t just involve individuals and their families. We also have to look at the overall impact as it can destroy a nation,” she said, adding that people who are happy in their childhood and adolescent years will definitely be psychologically healthy as well.
In order to create more liveable PPR schemes, Norhayati sees a need for various government agencies to collaborate to provide the necessary activities, infrastructure and family psychoeducational programmes (to look into financial, education and health aspects) for the residents.
She also sees a need for each PPR community to create a team to strengthen ties between the families and residents as well as look into their well-being.
"They must cooperate to look after their well-being, not just the physical aspect but also psychological. They can, for instance, introduce a rule to make it compulsory for the PPR children to return home by 8 pm and teenagers by 9 pm. In Istanbul, Turkiye, there is a PPR-like housing scheme where children are only allowed to be outdoors until 5pm and if they are not home by then, their parents will be penalised,” she said.
She added that the authorities can also fine-tune programmes that are of interest to children living in PPR flats and provide the necessary facilities for them as most of them are from low-income families.
Meanwhile, Universiti Putra Malaysia Department of Architecture senior lecturer Associate Prof Dr Mohd Zairul Mohd Noor opined that the National Housing Policy must be reviewed to provide for more conducive, comfortable and better quality low-cost housing.
This is necessary to ensure public housing schemes are built with the demography and sociocultural needs of the local community in mind and not in accordance with the wishes of developers that only prioritise profits.
"State governments and GLCs (government-linked companies) such as SPNB (Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd) and Uda Holdings Bhd are responsible for building low-cost houses.
"There will be problems if a state government is dependent on private developers to build such houses as the latter will only think of making a profit, so there will be shortcomings in terms of the facilities and design of the buildings and landscaping,” he said, adding that a housing scheme is only deemed complete if it incorporates humanitarian elements and greenery to enable its residents to live in a harmonious and positive environment.
Mohd Zairul also said the locations of PPR schemes must be reviewed to ensure they are not built in remote areas bereft of development and facilities.
"PPR residents are mostly from the B40 group and they cannot be marginalised. Our future low-cost housing planning policies need to take note of the residents’ social and economic status as they have the same right as Malaysians from other income groups to improve their quality of life and income.
To resolve the overcrowding issue faced by the sandwich generation living in the compact PPR flats - mostly occupied by middle-aged adults who stay with their aging parents and their own children - Mohd Zairul said the government can consider providing more transit homes for youths to stay before they become financially independent.
He said Malaysia currently lacks housing for youths, especially those without a fixed income, so they end up staying with their parents and younger siblings.
"I once did a study at a flat in Larkin, Johor, where a family with six children stayed. All the children are working but still lived with their parents because they couldn’t afford to rent a house.
"You can imagine how congested their unit was,” he added.
Dr Mohd Hafizal Ishak, a researcher at the Centre of Excellence For Facility Management at the Faculty of Technological and Business Management, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia, said low-cost housing schemes have transformed significantly since the 1990s, adding that the schemes now have better infrastructure and facilities compared to those built long ago.
"We can see infrastructure and facilities like garbage collection centres, drainage and sewage systems, children’s playgrounds and security systems including CCTVs at the newer PPR schemes.
"The only thing lacking is the culture of cleanliness and this is where the JMB (joint management body committee), residents associations and local councils can play a more proactive role in educating the residents on the importance of maintaining the cleanliness of their premises,” he said. - BERNAMA