Coping with a mental health condition is often trivialised in Southeast Asia. Cultural taboos and misinformation are so commonplace that good support is hard to come by. As such, many cases go unreported and untreated, leaving gaps in the region’s mental health data.
The problem with mental health data set gaps
Inaccurate statistics could lead to governments de-prioritising mental health and diverting necessary funds elsewhere. This will only limit mental health education and mental health care, further perpetuating stereotypes and continuing the negative cycle.
For example, Indonesia only spent 5 per cent (113.6 trillion rupiah) of the total National Budget on the health sector in 2019. Of that, approximately 2.9 per cent were allocated to mental health care, although cases of “pasung” or shackling of mentally ill patients still exist. Besides lacking widespread mental health education, Indonesia also has less than 10,000 registered mental health professionals—psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, mental health nurses—for a population of almost 270 million people.
In contrast, now that the pandemic has brought health care, especially the lack of proper mental health support for employees, to the forefront, Indonesia has doubled its health budget for 2022.
What are higher-income countries doing differently?
Germany and Norway offer some of the world's most comprehensive mental health care services. Germany provides inpatient and outpatient mental health care, financial assistance, and even helps patients find and retain jobs. The country also noticed a need for mental health support for asylum seekers. It set up a program to train them to become counsellors who, in turn, teach therapeutic classes to newly arrived refugees.
Norway has emergency rooms that cater solely to mentally ill patients. They also offer medication-free treatment to give back choice and body autonomy to people who do not want to take psychiatric medication.
The state of mental health care in Southeast Asia
In the first five months of 2021 alone, the Malaysian police recorded 468 suicide completions compared to a total of 631 in all 12 months of 2020. Thailand reported a 22 per cent increase in suicide rates in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous year. And Singapore has the highest suicide rate in Southeast Asia at 11.2 per cent, despite only having a population of under 6 million.
Increasing suicide rates due to pandemic fatigue thrust mental health into the spotlight. Where it was under-prioritised before, mental health is finally being discussed at all societal levels. As a result of public concern and its wide-reaching impact, Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs and Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) have finally agreed to abolish Section 309 of the Penal Code that criminalised suicide attempts with jail time and fines.
How Naluri is bridging the mental health gap in Southeast Asia
More people need to be able to access reliable mental health services more regularly. In addition to premium offerings like asynchronous chat with a clinical psychologist in the Naluri App, which make it as easy as whipping out a mobile phone to access mental health care, Naluri is on a mission to build the largest mental health data set in Southeast Asia.
To do so, the Naluri Mental Health Assessment, a version of the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale or DASS-21, is available for free. It is a widely recognised mental health self-check that people can complete in under five minutes that calculates a person’s risk for depression, anxiety, and stress. While each assessment result is completely private and confidential, demographical data has been included in the assessment to help build a better understanding of mental health conditions in Southeast Asia.
A more accurate reflection of mental health in Southeast Asia can only increase public concern and provide a more complete data set. This can then prompt faster changes in government policy which will change how society views mental health conditions in the long run.
Complete DASS-21 to check in with your mental health and experience premium features on the Naluri App for free for seven days. Alternatively, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how Naluri can benefit you and your employees.