Address mental health issues among minority groups

Wan speaks during the session.

KUCHING: The government should provide support to address the mental health challenges among minor groups living in the interior areas of Sarawak.

Hope Place founder Kelvin Wan, who sometimes visited small villages in the deep rural regions in order to deliver aid, said these minor groups such as the Penans and Kayans often had a high rate of disability due to marriages among close blood ties.

“Mental health is also a challenge for them. They will not seek help or they do not know where to seek help. And how can we help them when they are so deep in the jungle? I think the government needs to come in to help,” he said.

As a non-governmental organisation (NGO), he said Hope Place could visit once in a while by working with other teams.

“But when we organise such trips to the interior, we need to spend the whole week there and not many of us can take off for a whole week to go,” he said.

He said this during an online session called ‘A Dialogue on Mental Health: Meeting the Needs of Greater Sarawak’ organised and livestreamed by Mental Health Association of Sarawak (MHAS) via its Facebook page on Saturday (Oct 16), moderated by MHAS Miri branch chairperson Dr Bawih Inu Pu’un.

Noting that some areas did receive medical attention via flying doctor services, he nevertheless pointed out that this was only for a short period of time to address urgent illnesses and not so much for mental health issues.

Wan also said infrastructure was the key limitation with regard to access to these communities. 

Wan (left) speaks during the session as Dr Syarifah Hafizah Wan Kassim (right, top), consultant psychiatrist at Sentosa Hospital, and Mental Health Association of Sarawak (MHAS) Miri branch chairperson Dr Bawih Inu Pu’un look on.

“Our NGO goes into the interior of Sarawak and sometimes we drive for 10 to 12 hours. And for some areas, after driving for that time, we still have to walk for three to four hours to reach the small village, especially for the Penan and Kayan communities,” he said.

Sharing his hopes with regard to mental health, he hoped that society would be able to accept people with mental health issues and show love, care, and concern towards them.

He lamented certain cases where people took advantage of the food aid delivered by Hope Place to persons in need.

“We have received reports that we left, some neighbours took advantage of them and tried to take the food from them. And the persons were kind to allow them to take it.

“This really happens in our society, which is a problem I want to bring up. We hope society and everyone will try to love them and care for them (persons with mental health illness). They are good,” he said.

On top of helping persons in need of aid, he said Hope Place worked together with the Sentosa Hospital social worker team and medical team in order to assist their outpatients in need as well.

“Besides food aid, some of them need wheelchairs, diapers, and special milk formula,” Wan said, adding that Hope Place was currently taking care of about 30 outpatient cases with Sentosa Hospital.