Mental health is a universal human right but is the term being taken advantage of?

10 Oct 2023 01:57pm
Photo for illustrative purposes - FILE PIX
Photo for illustrative purposes - FILE PIX

Mental health is a universal human right but is the term being taken advantage of? Its a common and largely accepted medical condition but are more people using mental health as an easy scapegoat for poor decision making and escaping responsibilities?

Taylor’s University Impact Lab on Mental Health and Wellbeing Director Professor Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said this existed in a select few cases but practitioners should be equipped to handle diagnosing a mental health condition.

He said the rights of a person with psychosocial disabilities was enshrined in the UN Human Rights Declaration and later in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which has been ratified by Malaysia.

He, who is also the Malaysian Mental Health Association President, said there were more interest towards recognising work place stress which had also been extended to universities and schools post Covid-19.

"Every system is open to abuses but it is wrong to write off mental health friendly policies or allowances just because of the abuse which may be just in a minority of cases. The way forward should be to ensure robust mechanisms in place to prevent such abuses.

"There's a need to encourage and empower general practitioners (GPs) to issue medical leaves on the basis of mentalh health needs.

"One way of doing so is to provide training to GPs like how the Malaysian Society for Academic Psychiatry is starting a certificate programme in mental health for GPs," he told Sinar Daily.

Raintree Specialist Clinic Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Subash Kumar shared the same sentiment, saying there's no paramount abuse towards mental health but a small number of cases could occur in the medical field.

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"I don't think we are abusing mental health as a fundamental right, I suppose there are a small number of people who would abuse the system for their own benefit, but it was not exclusive to mental health services.

"It happens in the medical services as well with individuals attempting to avoid their responsibilities, but it is not easy to fake an ilness since doctors in the field would have to look for symptoms and could refer to other doctors to see if their findings are similar for certain illnessses," he said.

Gen Z more susceptible to mental health issues

Andrew said Generation Z (Gen Z) were more susceptible to mental health due to several reasons like digitalisation and higher expectations be it in education or in the work space.

"Gen Z particularly are more susceptible to mental health issues for a variety of reasons. Increased digitalisation in their lives with more widespread use of social media and generally having a higher expectation in life throughout their journey in education or in the workforce.

"They tend to seek meaning and significance in their life journey and want to identify with issues that matter to them which can result to greater stress as demonstrated in the higher number of suicide cases among youth during the pandemic.

"Their fast paced life, increase urbanisation, change in work culture and economic challenges have taken a toll for society's mental health as demonstrated by the increase in axiety, stress and depression cases," he said.

Meanwhile, Subash said despite having to adapt to the fast paced lifestyle, the younger generation now does not necessarily have more challenges than the previous generations and instead had a higher awareness of mental health compared to the previous generation.

"There seems to be a correlation between a much fast paced life and mental well being as we are always hurrying to the next objective where they are focused more on themselves, therefore lacking empathy.

"I don't think they have more mental health challenges, but they are more aware of their well-being and would seek help quickly while previous generations were less aware ad had their own challenges for instance with parents disciplining children, a method that worked before did not necessarily mean what was thought would be good to have now," he said.

Methods to improve the system

Andrew stated there are several issues that must be addressed to truly help the mental health issues which were accessibility, the stigma and to ensure no discrimination towards mental health.

"Increasing accessibility to mental health care throughout the nation is a challenge with significant resources concentrated in Klang Valley and Penang, so increased training opportunities towards mental health personnel and mechanism to ensure more distribution of mental health resources throughout the nation is important.

"Stigma remains as the biggest barrier in accessing mental health care and it continued to become the biggest contributor to the wide treatment gap between the number of individuals who need aid and those having access to services.

"There must be systems in place to ensure there's zero discrimination based on mental health in the work place and educational institutions. This is important to realise the theme for World Mental Health Day 2023 which is mental health is a universal human right," he said.

Subash suggested that mental health should be included towards the medical leave system.

"It should be given as an alternative medical leave as health encompasses both mental and physical well-being," he said.

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