Doubly Disadvantaged: Investigating Mental Health and Poverty
By Leann Fernandez (P.104 Subang Intern, 2017) Executive Summary:
This policy paper posits that poor mental health and poverty are synonymous; in order to combat deepening inequality within our society, it is necessary for the government to execute more inclusive welfare programmes, which will require a more precise definition of mental illness.
We lay out the state of Malaysia’s current mental health and its correlation to poverty, thus highlighting the importance of measures to improve mental health to more effectively combat inequality between race and class. This is the only way to achieve more sustainable development throughout the country.
Problems in Malaysia on mental health and poverty include a lack of awareness and a stigma towards mental illness among the general public, as well as a lack of accessible and affordable mental healthcare specialists and practitioners.
We suggest policy solutions to combat the cycle of poverty and mental health, focusing on, but not limited to: 4.1 Public education reform for schoolchildren, including placing one qualified counsellor in each school; 4.2 Workplace policies and programmes to encourage mental healthcare among existing employees, and to reintegrate employees back into the workforce upon recovery; 4.3 Improving the public healthcare system through targeted subsidies for health insurance among the most vulnerable, and a revision of the Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) coverage to include mental health issues; 4.4 Legislative reforms, in particular, revising suicide under the Penal Code to consider people with depression, and an anti-discrimination law to prevent workplace discrimination against mild mental illnesses; 4.5 More emphasis on academic and policy research on mental health in Malaysia, given the current lack of data; and 4.6 Allocating a specific budget under the Ministry of Health for mental health.
Investing in public mental healthcare will yield economic (and social) benefits that far outweigh the costs, as the wellbeing of every Malaysian, regardless of social stratum, is necessary for the flourishing of the nation as a whole.