Monday, November 11, 2019

Qualitas : GP Clinics as First Line of Care for Mental Health

It's okay to be not okay!
Mental illness is no joke. Everyone may be suffering from mental health issues at some point of their life, but not willing to seek treatment due to the fear of stigma. In response to the worrying trend in mental health problems in Malaysia, homegrown and leading primary healthcare provider Qualitas Medical Group hosted a panel session to raise awareness and initiate robust discussions on mental health at workplace. The panel session held in Sime Darby Convention Centre themed "Mental Health At The Workplace: The Unspoken Truth" was attended by approximately 100 guests from the public and private sector, including representatives from the Ministry of Health, Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health (MSOSH) as well as Third Party Administrators, corporate and industrial leaders.



From left to right : Mr Karim Dhala, Director of Corporate Services, Qualitas Medical Group, Ybhg. Dr. Koh Kar Chai, Honorary General Treasurer, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), YB Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Minister Women, Family and Community Development, Ybhg. Dato Dr Noorul Ameen Mohamed Ishack, Chairman and Managing Director, Qualitas Medical Group and Ybhg. Dato Dr R.S Kumar, Chairman of Medical Governance Board, Qualitas Medical Group.

The event was officiated by Yang Berhormat Puan Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. Yang Berhormat Puan Hannah revealed shocking figures of mental health problems, thus 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. The most disturbing part is that the youngest patient was only 4 years old!

Delivering a keynote address at the session, Chairman and Managing Director of Qualitas Medical Group, Yang Berbahagia Dato' Dr Noorul Ameen Mohamed Ishack said, "Mental health has been extensively discussed by key authorities, non-profit organisations for many years. Sadly, individuals suffering from depression and anxiety are reluctant to seek help as they fear the stigma of being stereotyped. The time has come for immediate practical actions to be taken by all stakeholders. The general practitioners should be empowered to play a more active and positive role in the management of mental health wellness, and for that, changes need to be made by the Government in empowering general practitioners to act as the gatekeeper on mental health."

Depression and anxiety not only pose a mental health challenge for sufferers, but these issues also have a significant economic impact on the country. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) this year, depression and anxiety are 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, Vice President, Malaysian Society of Occupational Safety and Health shared, "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."


The panel discussion consists of Dr Puspamary Matthews, Family Medicine Specialist & Occupational Health Doctor, Qualitas Medical Group, Mdm Sarah Waheeda Muhammad Hafidz, Consultant Industrial and Occupational Psychologist, Mr J. Soloman, Secretary-General Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and Dr Shawaludin Hussin, Vice President, Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health (MSOSH).

In Malaysia, primary healthcare personnel, 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. Patients visiting the GP clinics to treat their frequent migraine, insomia, impaired concentration and fatigue may or may not realise that they are suffering from anxiety and depression. This, coupled with the stigma attached to mental health wellness issues, patients are often reluctant to visit mental health professionals. Hence, the sufferers ultimate choice will be primary healthcare personnel, as such the primary healthcare practitioners need to be empowered, upskilled and be prepared to meet these requirements.

Today, the role 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.

The panel session was organised by Qualitas as part of its commitment to continue to provide integrated healthcare within the primary healthcare sector. With over 20 years of experience in the primary healthcare industry, Qualitas operates a regional network of GP clinics with a network of over 200 clinics in Malaysia as well as in Singapore and Australia offering a wide range of healthcare services. The Group is further looking to expand into existing markets as well as new markets in the region.

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