[EXCLUSIVE] Employees will benefit from workplace counsellors (NSTTV)

Aliza Shah

THE government should consider making it compulsory for corporations to provide in-house counsellors to help employees manage their mental health problems.

In-house counsellors would help those mentally distraught to cope with their problems and maintain productivity, said Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) president Anita Abu Bakar.

“I think having a counsellor is important, especially in workplaces, because those with mental health problems are subjected to stigma, discrimination and inequality. The only way we can help them is to have counselling at the workplace.

“We can’t have them staying at home because it does not improve their condition. We want them to return to society, go back to work and know that they can continue to be productive.

“Having counsellors around will help them feel safe because they know that they have someone that they can go to if they have a crisis or suicidal thoughts.”

Anita said Malaysia lagged behind other countries in terms of providing support to those with mental illnesses.

“Many don’t want to see a psychiatrist because it would go into their employment record that they have a mental problem.

“People will start to judge them, including their bosses.

“People have no issue when you are on medical leave for two months due to a physical illness, but when they know that it is because of mental illness, you will be treated differently until you have no choice but to resign.”

Many countries, including Australia, Canada and the United States, emphasised the importance of having an Employee Assistance Programme, where free and confidential counselling is offered by employers to employees to support their wellbeing.

Anita’s view is supported by Malaysian Psychiatric Association president Professor Dr Nor Zuraida Zainal, who believes that in-house counsellors will better prevent mental illnesses.

“It is advisable for big companies to have counsellors. A small company will depend on human resource officers, who would have a counselling background.

“But it is good to have in-house counsellors because they can give early assistance. If the problem is beyond their scope, they can advise patients to seek professional help.”

Dr Nor Zuraida said there were more complicated cases where patients chose to end their lives due to pressure. “Cases that come to us are no longer straightforward or impulsive suicide attempts, such as women who attempt suicide after their intentions to get married were rejected.

“We are dealing with those who experience emptiness in their lives. It is no longer impulsive. Instead, they have built-up emotional turmoil, which influences them to commit suicide.

“We are also seeing an increase in the number of young adults, those in their 20s, compared with past years where we had more elderly or those above 45 who attempted suicide.” Dr Nor Zuraida, a psychiatrist with University Malaya Medical Centre, said there was a significant increase in the number of patients who resorted to self-harm to satisfy their mental needs.

“We were shocked to see the number of patients with self-inflicted injuries.

“We have at least one case every two weeks that requires the patient to be admitted. We also receive a number of patients with superficial cuts daily.

“They are not seeking attention because they hide (the cuts) underneath their clothes, and they do it in their rooms.

“This makes it more dangerous because if anything happens, no one will know about it.

“They do that (self-harm) because they have emotional pain. They can feel it, but they cannot see it physically, so they make a superficial cut to feel the pain and watch the blood,” she said, adding that these people were not attempting to end their lives.

Dr Nor Zuraida attributed the increasing number of patients with superficial cuts to the pitfalls of parenting.

“Children feel distant from their parents. They don’t feel the affection, and sometime feel as if they are being treated differently than their siblings.

“When we talk to the children, they tell us that their parents do not understand them. Parents, too, give similar answers.” © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd