PUCHONG: The government is just 2,945 individuals short of achieving its target of registering 11,000 professional counselors with its Board of Counselors. The objective in attaining these numbers is to cope with the escalating number of individuals afflicted with mental health issues and reduce the talent shortage in counseling.

At the launch of a mental health programme at SJK(C) Yak Chee in Puchong, deputy Women, Family and Community Development minister Hannah Yeoh said that “mental illness is expected to become the second biggest health problem by next year, after heart disease.”

She said that her ministry is working closely with non-profit organisation Agape Counselling Centre Malaysia, to combat mental health issues among children. For now, they are reaching out to children from Chinese schools and focusing on victims of cyber bullying.

“One of five children are victims,” Yeoh said and pointed out that such cases usually involve mocking, mostly due to physical appearances or jealousy, and these are associated with emotional stress, social anxiety, suicidal ideation, etc.

More shocking was that research and surveys revealed that Malaysia was second highest among 28 Asian countries, in ill mental health, and it can affect both urban and rural folk.

According to the 2015 National Health and Morbidity survey, almost 30% of the national population are plagued with mental illness. The 2017 survey by the health ministry found that of the 273,203 respondents, 18,336 (6.71%) were suffering from some kind of mental condition. IN 2018, the ministry received about 15.000 calls, a majority from school children who were lonely during school holidays.

Alarming statistics and information have prompted the government to collaborate with NGOs to combat mental health issues. “The ministry will be focusing on the family institution and encouraging the people to dedicate more family time,” said Yeoh.

According to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, there are currently 8,058 registered counselors with the Board of Counselors, this makes the counselor-population ratio 1: 4,030. The ministry expects to have 11,000 registered counselors by 2020, to make a ratio of 1: 2,945.

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