Conference to address mental health

Abdul Karim (centre) with Snowdan and Nancy showing off the conference's brochure after the press conference. Photo: Mohd Alif Noni

KUCHING: The Sarawak Ministry of Youth and Sports is organising the Southeast Asia Youth Mental Health Conference (SEAYMHC) to address mental health challenges in society, especially among the youth.

The programme, themed ‘Breaking the Mental Health Issues Stigma in Asean Amid Pandemic’, will run as a series of Zoom webinars from 8am to 4pm on Saturday. 

One of the key objectives of SEAYMHC is to cultivate awareness on the importance of professional services from psychologists, counsellors and psychiatrists for the youth. 

It also aims to help youth from Asean countries to handle mental health issues as well as to remove the stigma towards mental health issues among youths in Asean countries, especially those in Sarawak.

Sarawak Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah and federal Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah will officiate at the programme.

Abdul Karim said the programme would involve some 300 participants comprising youths aged 18 to 40 and covering countries in Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia (with 200 youths from Sarawak), the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Indonesia.

“We invite youths from Malaysia and Sarawak to participate in this conference, which is still open for registration until this Friday,” he said in a press conference at the Baitul Makmur II Building on Wednesday (July 28).

“Participation is also open to the public, and those who are interested can contact the ministry’s secretariat at 082-495555.”

The panellists include Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim, public health physician and head of the mental health sector at the Ministry of Health (MoH); Dr Bernard Ting Chuong Hock, psychiatrist, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas); Dr Ng Boon Seng, psychiatrist at Sarawak General Hospital (SGH); Dr Ekachaeryanti Zain, psychiatrist, Hospital Samarinda, Indonesia; Dr Oon Li Keat, associate consultant at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore; Rachel An Vu, psychotherapist at UKCP Accredited Therapist, Vietnam, and others.

Among the topics which will be discussed during the programme are ‘Mental Health Wellbeing for Youth’ by Dr Ekachaeryanti, ‘Depression and Challenges’ by Dr Ting, ‘Uncertainty and Freedom to Choose: Existential Reflections During a Pandemic’ by Rachel.

“It is hoped that this conference will provide information to the youth regarding progress in mental health and help to improve the standard of mental care and personal development,” added Abdul Karim. 

Citing the National Health and Morbidity Survey in Malaysia, he said suicidal behaviour among youth aged 13 to 17 years had shown an increase over the years, where the suicidal tendencies and ideas were at 10 percent in 2017 compared to 7.9 percent in 2012.

“The same study also found that depressive tendencies were at 18.3 percent – where one out of five youths faced depressive symptoms, two out of five youths experienced anxiety, and one out of 10 youths experienced stress.”

He noted that in 2017, people had not faced the pandemic and lockdowns yet, pointing out that these factors certainly created additional stress.

“That is why if we look at last year and this year, I believe that the total number of suicides – not just those involving the youth – is quite high,” he said, adding that Malaysia had recorded 468 suicides from January to May this year. 

At the global level, he said the World Health Organisation had reported that suicide was one of the 10 leading causes of death in the world and the second for those aged between 15 and 29 years.

“On average, one death happens every 40 seconds, meaning almost 800,000 people die every year as a result of suicide.”

SEAYMHC is organised in collaboration with Social Community Programme Urban Society (Scopurs), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean, MoH, and Young Minds.