GP CLINICS AS FIRST LINE OF CARE FOR MENTAL HEALTH
NOV 6, 2019 @ 10.23AM
(Left to right) Dr Shawaludin Husin, vice president of Malaysian Society of Occupational Safety and Health, Sarah Waheeda Muhammad Hafidz, consultant, Industrial and Occupational Psychology, Leadernomics, Dr Puspamary Matthews, Family Medicine & Occupational Health specialist, Qualitas Medical Group and Balasubramaniam, deputy secretary general, Malaysian Trades Union Congress at a panel discussion on the importance of taking positive steps to ensure employees are well taken care.
In response to worrying issues regarding mental health in Malaysia, homegrown and leading primary healthcare provider Qualitas Medical Group (‘Qualitas’) hosted a panel session to raise awareness and initiate robust discussions on mental health at the workplace.
Themed, “Mental Health at the Workplace: The Unspoken Truth”, the session officiated by Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development emphasised the pressing need to reduce the stigma on mental health issues within the community and the important role that general practitioners can play as the first line of care on mental health.
Dato’ Dr Noorul Ameen Mohamed Ishack, the chairman of Qualitas Medical Group in his keynote address emphasised the need for immediate practical actions to be taken by all stakeholders particularly general practitioners - whom he said should be empowered to play a more active and positive role in the management of mental health wellness.
While depression and anxiety pose a mental health challenge for sufferers, these issues also have a significant economic impact on the country. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression and anxiety is estimated to cost the global economy approximately US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity. As businesses thrive on optimum productivity, it is beneficial to both employers and employees to prioritise the wellbeing of employees.
In 2017, a study conducted by AIA Bhd titled “Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality” reported that 12% of employees have high level of anxiety and depressive symptoms. A follow up survey in 2018 further revealed that 50.2% of employees have at least one dimension of work-related stress. This worrying trend poses a challenge for individuals, companies and society in Malaysia which can have tremendous repercussions if left unaddressed.
Dr Shawaludin Husin the vice president for Malaysian Society of Occupational Safety and Health shared that prevention measures for accidents and injuries that affect one’s physique is no longer sufficient but we need to manage how stress, depression and other mental issues would lead to unforeseen mishaps in the workforce. Thus, organisations need to urgently look into effective safety and health management system and policies that ensures the overall wellbeing, which may include initiatives such as mindfulness training, financial planning, on-the-hour flash walk, among others.
Primary healthcare personnel as the first line of care
General practitioners (GPs) have been the first contact for people seeking healthcare. As most GP clinics are well spread out in the neighbourhoods nationwide, the GPs have traditionally been regarded by society as the first line of care.
“Primary healthcare needs to evolve, equipping its workforce with the right knowledge, confidence and capacity to provide mental health support, now more than ever. With primary healthcare practitioners onboard, I am certain that employees will feel less stereotyped and more open to receiving treatment in the early stages. This would greatly improve the mental health outlook, contributing to a positive community, workforce and the nation’s economy”, said Sarah Waheeda Muhammad Hafidz, consultant Industrial and Occupational psychologist from Leaderonomics.
“Over the years, many patients have come to the GP clinics complaining of frequent migraine, insomnia, fatigue and impaired concentration. These patients may or may not realise that they are suffering from anxiety and depression. Coupled with the stigma attached to mental health wellness issues, these patients are often reluctant to be seen as visiting mental health professionals. Sufferers are looking to primary healthcare personnel for their needs – As such, we as primary healthcare practitioners need to be empowered, upskilled and be prepared to meet these requirements,” added Mohamed Ishack.
Today, the role of primary healthcare is required to shift beyond merely supporting physical wellbeing to becoming the first line of assistance for mental health issues. More and more, the primary healthcare workforce will need to be empowered with the right knowledge, confidence and capacity to provide first line mental health support for patients in their time of need.
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