PETALING JAYA: According to experts, parents and schools should play an important role in identifying and providing mental health support to children, especially for those who belong to the low income group.
The president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association, Datuk, Dr Andrew Mohanraj, said deterioration in school performance, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal and negative thoughts about themselves are some of the signals alarm displayed by children.
“For those struggling to cope, parents and the school system need to play a positive role in identifying and supporting these children,” he said.
He said parents could easily notice if their children were having trouble sleeping, being quieter than usual or having sudden bursts of tears and anger over minor incidents, as well as biting their nails, twisting their hair or sucking their thumbs.
This, Dr. Mohanraj said, could indicate underlying psychological issues.
“Struggling children in B40 homes often go unnoticed because parents are preoccupied with bread-and-butter issues, which was very evident in successive closures.
“Parents’ mental health is often compromised during these difficult times and this can lead to compromised parenting skills,” Dr Mohanraj noted.
Associate Professor Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology and Social Sciences at Cyberjaya University, said it was important to create resources for children in the B40 group that will help them develop skills and will allow them to get out of their situation.
This can be done through extracurricular activities, classes, and dance lessons, among others.
“When we talk about B40, we are talking about access to resources, access to education and basic needs and sometimes luxuries,” she said.
“Kids like a bit of luxury; they kinda like toys and games that other people don’t have, but nobody wants to be a charity case all the time,” she added.
On improving access to mental health therapy, she said therapy and counseling rates can be affordable depending on location, adding that some offer free counselling.
“All schools in Malaysia are supposed to provide therapy and counselling, as are workplaces,” Dr Anasuya said.
She also said there should be mental health insurance coverage.
Audits have shown that the average rate for therapy and counseling in the private sector is between RM100 and 200 per session, while rates can go as low as RM1 for enrollment in public institutions and RM5 for the board.
The 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey revealed that some 424,000 children in Malaysia struggle with mental health issues, indicating that mental health problems among the group may have become an epidemic.