REDUCING STIGMA TOWARDS PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS IN MALAYSIA
Objective: Mental illness accounts for 12% of the global burden of disease with a reported 1 in 5 Malaysians suffering from a psychological disorder. Sufferers have been long plagued by stigma, which results in social isolation, low-selfesteem, lower opportunities for employment, housing, and ability to achieve life goals. This essay aims to suggest strategies to overcome such stigma in the local setting. Methods: Literature search was conducted through PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) and Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com.my). Data obtained was compiled as an opinion piece. Results: The factors contributing to stigma in Malaysia include a lack of public knowledge, language and cultural influences, inaccurate media portrayal, doctors’ attitudes towards the field of psychiatry, and psychiatrists themselves. Stigma can be tackled in four areas: society, media, medical education, and the field of psychiatry. Firstly, psychiatric terminology can be adapted to local languages and cultural beliefs in order to avoid misconceptions. Secondly, public education is more effective if focused to targeted key groups. The media is crucial in influencing the public mind-set, and needs to be creatively engaged. Thirdly, more positive medical practitioner attitudes to mental illness can be moulded through early psychiatric postings during medical school. Finally, psychiatrists play a role in correcting misconceptions, avoiding misdiagnosis and ineffective treatments. Cultural competency leads to better management of patients by awareness towards socio-cultural and religious influences. Conclusion: A multifaceted, united coalition of effort is needed in order to tackle stigma in different contexts, and will require concerted leadership from different parties.