PETALING JAYA: The shortage of psychiatrists to treat individuals with mental health issues may soon end with the increasing number of training facilities in the public sector and more private practitioners available to the public.

According to Malaysian Medics International, the country only had 479 registered psychiatrists as of February last year, while Malaysia requires one for every 10,000 population, or 3,000 in total.

Psychiatrist and internationally certified interpersonal psychotherapist Prof Xavier Vincent Pereira said from his experience, the number of common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders has increased by almost 90%.

Xavier said there was a shortage of psychiatrists five years ago due to lack of training centres, especially for medical doctors who wished to specialise in psychiatry.

“Unless a faculty of medicine is established in public universities for medical doctors, it is difficult to develop postgraduate programmes for students wishing to specialise in psychiatry.”

Xavier said health authorities need to consider retirement as a factor contributing to the shortage of psychiatrists, primarily in government hospitals.

“The shortage of psychiatrists was not as acute a few years ago.

“This is because psychiatrists had opened up their private practice in heavily populated areas such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

“Most people have opted to visit psychiatrists in private practice because they are easily accessible. Furthermore, there are more people today who can afford them.”

Xavier also said most psychiatrists chose not to specialise in one particular field, and offered general psychiatric care, which is more profitable due to the larger number of potential patients.

He added that financial factors also played an important role in determining what post-graduate specialities medical doctors pursued. For instance, becoming a surgeon is more lucrative than being a general practitioner.

The stigma surrounding psychiatrists also became a factor in doctors pursuing it as their speciality.

“Society is also prejudiced against psychiatrists as a profession that deals with ‘crazy people’.

“However, contrary to popular belief, there are many safeguards in place to protect psychiatrists from being harmed.

“Today, society is more accepting of psychiatrist as a respected and important profession.

“Many of my former students were considering psychiatry as their career choice due to a surplus of students pursuing other post-graduate courses.”

Xavier said the shortage of psychiatrists can affect heavily populated areas such as Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang, semi-urban and rural areas.

He stressed Sabahans and Sarawakians suffer the most from the shortage.

“There is also a need for psychiatrists who specialise in child psychology.”

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