While the current system may have its shortcomings, those suffering from depression can still rely on the mental health services available at schools, hospitals and other centres.
AT THE age of 17, Adam* appeared to have the life that most teens had.
He had good grades, supportive family and friends, and enjoyed playing football and going to rock concerts.
The world only learnt of his inner battle with depression the night he wound up in the intensive care unit at a local hospital after attempting suicide.
For some, confusing thoughts and emotions might result in suicide attempts.
Fortunately, he survived.
The 26-year-old, recalls the reaction of his loved ones then.
“I had just broken-up with my girlfriend of three months, and everyone assumed that this was the only cause of my ‘incident’.
“The truth was that I was feeling really down for a long time, but no one noticed because I always had this mask on; in public, I was a cheerful and carefree person.
“But inside, I couldn’t stop thinking about how horrible the world was and felt completely hopeless.
“When I tried to remind myself about everything good in my life, I just felt more guilty for being depressed,” he says.
While Adam’s experience is just a sliver of the complicated issue of mental health, it may hold some insight into the death of Sally Lee Qian Chun.
On Wednesday morning at SMK Seri Kota, Malacca, Sally suddenly walked out of class, going onto the second floor ledge of her school before falling backwards and suffering fatal head injuries.
Described as a bright and well-behaved student, her actions shocked those around her.
Dr Chiam: Malaysians must be more sympathetic to those suffering from mental health problems.
Sally did try to reach out for help — she had voiced her desire to end her life on her Facebook account.
Tragically, no one took her seriously.
Awareness and stigma
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is the fourth most disabling disease in the world, and estimates that the lifetime occurrence of depression in any country is between eight and ten percent.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai says that he is “sad and worried” about the number of people who turn to drastic measures in order to cope with their mental health problems.
“People need to know that it is okay to be depressed and there are healthy ways to handle it,” he tells StarEducation. “The ministry has been conducting nationwide campaigns on managing stress for quite some time now.
“But in order to focus on promoting mental health programmes, we set up the National Mental Health Advisory Committee in August last year.”
One such initiative is the pilot mental health project scheduled to start in four local secondary schools.
A joint collaboration between the Health and Education Ministries, the project will see trained teachers carry out mental health evaluation tests on students.
“The teachers are currently undergoing training and being equipped with the guidelines needed to conduct the tests.
“The project is scheduled to be completed in six months time, and we hope to introduce it to schools nationwide by the end of the year,” says Liow.
Liow adds that the public should not discriminate against those who are afflicted by mental illnesses.
“We need to remove the stigma attached to mental illnesses such as depression and instead focus on offering them support,” he says.
Similarly, social psychologist Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng believes that negative societal attitudes cause even more harm.
“Malaysians must be more sympathetic to those suffering from mental health problems, and not look upon them as ‘nuisances’.
“For instance, if someone is already dealing with acute depression, this sort of rejection will heighten their sense of worthlessness and despair.
“Furthermore, our schools need to focus on developing children’s emotional intelligence, instead of just stressing on academic achievements,” she says.
Dr Chiam adds that counsellors in schools should be more professional. “I’ve had cases of students turning to me instead of school counsellors because they thought the entire school will find our about their personal problems.
“While this may not be true, the students had the impression that they could not trust their teachers,” she says.
School counsellors must first earn the trust and respect from students.
However, retired teacher Cindy* of Penang says some school counsellors may be facing difficulties establishing a rapport with their students due to certain constraints.
“They have minimal contact with the students because they don’t normally enter classrooms or see them on a daily basis, which makes it difficult for them to spot the symptoms.
“The cases are mostly referred by teachers, peers or even parents,” says Cindy, who was also a school counsellor.
In contrast, school counsellor Mandy* strives to take a more proactive approach when dealing with her students.
Recent newspaper articles on emotionally-troubled youths.
Relating a case she handled last year, the counsellor says she knew something was amiss because of a troubling comment made by a student.
“He said to me ‘I will decide whether to jump or not after the counselling session’,” she says.
Although the boy had asked Mandy not to inform his family about his suicidal thoughts, given the seriousness of the issue, Mandy had little choice but to call his mother.
“It turned out that the mother was also suffering from depression, while the boy’s father was away most of the time because of work.
“I ended up giving the mother some family and marriage counselling as well,” she says.
However, she says, there is only so much that a school counsellor can do because of limitations such as time constraints.
“Having suicidal thoughts is a symptom.
“Finding out the root of the cause is far more effective than treating the symptoms,” she says.
National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng says such symptoms could convey and give away clues about issues that a child may be facing.
“When the child starts a different routine or behaves differently such as isolating himself or not sleeping at all, parents should pay close attention to the changes in the child’s behaviour,” she says.
Making assumptions and ignorance will do no good to the child.
“A person may appear happy, but you wouldn’t know what is really going on in her mind,” says Lok.
Teachers should refer the students to school counsellors when they observe behavioural changes in their students, Lok adds.
School counsellors should then work together with the parents to find a solution to help the child.
Lok’s other suggestion is to include proper channels in schools to enable students to have telephone or online counselling.
She adds that counsellors should be given more recognition and opportunities for promotion.
*All names have been changed.
by Tan Ee Loo and Priya Kulasagaran.
Read more @ http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2011/2/13/education/8051357&sec=education