THE increase in social issues, such as stressful lifestyles, divorce, juvenile crime, suicide and violent acts, is a grave concern for the public as the long-term costs can hamper the development of the nation.
These issues could be the manifestation of an existing unhealthy mental state, or the cause of people succumbing to mental illnesses, such as depression.
We must look seriously at the deteriorating mental health issue and its connection to violence and anti-social behaviour, such as bullying and sadism.
We should explore options to tackle the issue, including introducing art therapy, which could enhance an individual’s mental health.
Mental health is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a state of wellbeing upon which an individual realises his potential, can cope with normal everyday stress, work productively and contribute to society.
Art therapy is a unique treatment that can help troubled people using art as a universal medium of language that transcends cultural norms.
Studies have shown that techniques used in art therapy could become an effective therapeutic tool that enhances the treatment of troubled individuals.
Art therapy could help those with mental health problems realise their potential and increase productivity using better stress coping strategies.
It is important to find the best ways to tackle the escalating social issues as they will have an adverse impact on the nation’s social fabric and hope for the next generations of Malaysians.
One thing for certain, many are suffering in silence from untreated mental illnesses as it is not the cultural norm to speak out or seek treatment.
A National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2015 showed that about 4.2 million citizens, aged 16 years and above, or 29.2 per cent of the population, suffered from mental problems.
The number is alarming because it shows an increase of 11.2 per cent compared with 2006.
More troubling, the problem also involves students as the ratio of those facing mental problems has increased from one in 10 people in 2011 to one in five individuals last year.
Experts had cited anxiety and depression as the main causes of mental health problems among students.
Work-related stress is one of the most challenging issue due to the demanding contemporary work environment. It is common to encounter stress, but excessive and unmanageable stress can be damaging to an employee’s health as it affects their physical and mental wellbeing.
Poor mental health could increase a suicidal tendency.
According to Malaysian Psychiatric Association president professor Mohamed Hussain Habil, suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent in the past 45 years. It is estimated seven people attempt suicide daily in Malaysia, one daily in Singapore and 13 daily in Thailand.
Given the situation faced by Malaysian society and their typical behavioural characteristics, it is believed that art therapy could be the most useful and effective tool to assist those with mental health problems.
It is crucial for us to develop a systematic and greater promotion on the use of art therapy as a preventive and remedial tool for mental health treatment.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
Member, Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council