This article is part of our ‘Taboo Series’ whereby we write articles on topics that Malaysians would find very ‘taboo’.
Mental Health Services in Malaysia
Mental health has always been a tricky issue to talk about in Malaysia, much less admitting the need to seek help for it. Growing up, I’m sure we’ve heard numerous catchphrases from our parents such as “Suck it up”, “Don’t be weak” and the dreaded “Just be more positive” whenever we were feeling upset or sad, further encouraging the belief that being mentally ill was merely something that we masqueraded or was just a way to seek attention.
As someone who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety 2 years ago, I know too well how invalidating these words could be, adding salt to an already bleeding wound but I am here to tell all of you who are currently or suspecting themselves to be going through a mental illness to not give up on hope yet, that despite how dire our society’s stigma against mental illnesses is, I have found numerous ways to seek help, ranging from the super-affordable to the most premium, truly making it accessible for all.
A survey done by the National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2017 reported that 29% of Malaysians had depression and anxiety disorders, a big leap in numbers compared to in 2011, when only 11% of Malaysians were reported having those disorders. The survey also concluded how mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health issue in Malaysia (after heart disease) come the year 2020. This is not to say that only recently Malaysians are developing these disorders but maybe it’s due to people opening up and recognizing the symptoms they are experiencing.
1. Psychiatry Department at University of Malaya Medical Clinic
For an affordable treatment by well-qualified psychologists and psychiatrists, look no further than the medical clinic at University Malaya. Being a half government-funded clinic and half a private practice, the fees are highly subsidized and the only thing you need to pay fully is the medication. As it is highly affordable, the clinic is usually packed, even on weekday mornings so to make the trip to UMMC less likely to add to your already ignited depression, here are some tips on what to expect:
a) The clinic only opens on weekdays, from 7am – 11am and even by 8am, it’s usually packed with a bunch of patients so make sure you do not have other plans that day as depending on the severity of your case, the line does not go by first come first serve basis.
b) Get a Grab or get someone to drop you off as parking spots are very limited but if you must drive there, note that the parking ONLY accepts Touch N Go and is RM2 every hour, only being a flat rate of RM8, after 8pm.
c) Remember to bring your wallet and your identification card along, credit & debit cards are accepted too but due to the long waiting room line, cash is recommended in case you need to grab a bite from the vending machines or at the many eateries scattered about the hospital.
d) First appointment will cost you RM30 and subsequent ones will cost RM15.90. Speaking from personal experience private clinics rates usually go up to RM400 an hour (which you’ll see later on in this article) so yes, well-worth the price!
e) Before you register, the nurses there will ask the reason of your visit, do not hesitate to be as truthful as possible (as I stated earlier, the time you’ll wait depends on the severity of your case) so if it’s really urgent, don’t be embarrassed to admit it. They are here to help and they also meet hundreds of patients of similar cases every day so you will not be singled out.
f) Typically, medications will be suggested during the first appointment but remember it’s your right as a patient to deny them if you’re not comfortable with the idea of being medicated yet. Speak to your doctor about alternatives. If you do opt for medication, the prices will vary and it demands on the dosage prescribed, this is usually when it gets a little pricier but remember, your mental health should be a priority and shouldn’t have a specific price attached to it!
CLINIC DETAILS (PSYCHIATRY/PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT)
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 7am – 11am
Telephone number: 03-7949 2368
2. Counselling services in your college/university (if you’re still a student)
As a college student, money is definitely an issue for most of us. Part time jobs are also impossible to hold with all the workload given by the lecturers but do not fret, did you know that there are counselling services provided at colleges & universities? Best thing is, it’s all free of charge for enrolled students!
I know most of us would be skeptical but they are professionals equipped with highly-trained skills to help students out. I used to think they were only there to provide advice for future career options or any issues regarding education but nope! They can also provide help to students facing any personal, relationship and also of course academic related issues.
Some of the services provided also involve group counselling so if you’re afraid of seeking help alone, bring along a group of trusted friends as it might ease the process of speaking up about any issues you’re facing.
If there are concerns of your secrets being spread out through campus, most counselling services provided by universities are registered with the Malaysian Counselling Board (in accordance with the Malaysian Counselor’s Rules and Regulation (Code of Ethics) 1999) and in any case that confidentiality is not maintained, you have the right to report to this board.
3. Private clinics
Admitting you need help to your parents is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences someone has to go through especially if they’re old-school conservatives but you’d be surprised 9 out of 10 times, your parents really do want what’s best for you even if it means putting aside their unshakeable beliefs about mental health.
My parents have always been the typical set of Asians that believed a good night’s sleep and exercise were the only solutions needed to cure my depression but after a failed suicide attempt, they finally realized how critical the situation was and finally agreed for me to see a psychologist in a private clinic in Mont Kiara. The location itself will tell you how pricey it was going to be, Mont Kiara being synonymous with expat-living and the upper class of Kuala Lumpur.
Despite my ego never wanting to depend on my parents, I am truly grateful they offered monetary support as these private clinics can charge up to RM350 (NOT including medication fees) an hour and even holding a part time job was not going to be enough.
However just like what you pay for is what you get, these private clinics are usually more involved with each and every one of their patients so if you can afford it, I strongly suggest choosing a private practice. But I am not discounting the former services listed here, it’s just a personal opinion. Again, here are some tips on what to expect when setting an appointment and going for one:
1. First, choose a clinic of your choice. A quick Google search will show you dozens of results, be smart & do your research wisely, most of them charge the same amount of rates so it’s up to you to decide which one will suit your needs more.
2. After choosing a clinic, it’s time to pick a doctor! On a clinic’s website there will be a list of their team members, ranging from counsellors, psychiatrists or even psychotherapists who specialize in niche types of therapy like Art Therapy, Mindfulness Based Therapy and even more holistic approaches like yoga. Sporting a short biography, the therapists’ specialized areas in helping either adults, adolescents or children will be listed as well as whether they can help in curing addiction, mood disorders and personality disorders so make the decision on who better suits your needs.
3. To set up an appointment with the doctor of your choice, either through calling up the clinic or sending them an email. Obviously not all of us are equipped to make that phone call (hey, totally understandable!) but unfortunately that’s the fastest way to do it so get someone trustworthy to make a phone call for you, just provide them with important details like your full name, phone number and email address and you’re all good to go (A quick heads up, you can even schedule an appointment through some of these clinics’ Facebook pages so give that a shot too and best thing is, Facebook will automatically send you a reminder on the day itself, a definite bonus for the forgetful)!
The rest is pretty straightforward, be punctual to your appointment and just like at University Malaya Medical Clinic, bring your wallet & identification card.
In the end, regardless of which facility you decide to go to, the thing to remember is being open with the doctors or counsellors you meet as that will be consequential in how well the treatment goes. Although it would be lovely if your doctor was able to take one look at you and immediately identify the problem but keeping quiet or not being entirely honest about what you’re going through will prevent them from providing you the treatment you require.
When we’ve been taught so long to swallow our emotions and never express them, It’s a given for the first appointment, it’d be extremely uncomfortable to open up to someone, much less a stranger but at the end of the day, they want to help you as much as you wanted to be helped.
Additionally, if the first doctor you meet doesn’t seem like the right fit for you, that’s totally okay!
Also in your rights as a patient, you are encouraged to request to seek another doctor!
Humans are so varied in their personalities, characteristics and views, expecting to vibe with the first person we meet is almost close to impossible, so just keep trying and just like in the quest for love, you’ll find your perfect match who’ll guide you to the happy ending (we are NOT encouraging marrying your therapists BTW, as tempting that might be) all of us as human beings deserve.
Just like seeing a doctor when you have the flu or when feeling under the weather, seeking professional help for your mental health is just as crucial. Be proud you’re getting treatment as that will be the first step to a stigma free Malaysia.
This article is a part of The Cool Bears Taboo series where we discuss & examine the many taboo subjects & topics of Malaysia. You can check out our previous article on LGBT Malaysia and sex education in Malaysia.