Mental health will be the focus of the upcoming eighth Malaysian Conference on Healthy Ageing, to be held at the Royale Bintang Hotel in Kuala Lumpur from March 31 to April 2.

Themed “Making Mental Health a Priority for Healthy Ageing”, the conference will see a holistic approach to mental health issues affecting our society today.

At the conference organised by the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS), Prof Dr Helen Herrman, president-elect of the World Psychiatric Association, will address delegates with a keynote speech on “Improving Mental Health for Women and Girls in Adversity”.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye will deliver a keynote speech as well, entitled “Promoting Mental Health at the Workplace for Better Productivity”.

“Mental health is an important component and contributor to healthy ageing,” says Prof Philip George, organising chairman of the conference.

“Mental health must be promoted among children and adolescents if we want our population that is ageing to have a better quality of life and see an increase in productivity.

“There is a great need to promote mental health awareness.

“Those who do suffer from mental health illnesses can recover and need not suffer in silence.

“Special populations such as women and children in adversity, require more mental health support as they become more vulnerable to mental disorders.”

“This conference hopes to highlight the importance of making mental health a priority for healthy ageing,” says MHAS president Dr Lim Poh Hin.

“It brings together local and foreign experts to discuss important areas of mental health disorders and delivery of healthcare.

“It is hoped that the conference will educate and empower healthcare and policymakers to better improve mental health services, and thus, ensure healthy ageing in Malaysia.”

Plenaries on “The Medical Model of Managing Addictions”, “Relationships and Mental Health”, “An Integrative Approach (Traditional Chinese Medicine & Holistic Medicine)” and “Recovery in Mental Health” are among the highlights of the conference.

“Epilepsy and Mental Disorders”, “Psychological Support of Care Givers”, “Elder Abuse and Neglect”, “Anxiety and Depression”, “Psychological Aspects in Disaster Relief” and “Medical Conditions Masquerading as Mental Illness” are among some of the other key topics included in the conference programme, which includes plenaries, pre-conference workshops, symposiums and free paper sessions.

The Malaysian Conference on Healthy Ageing is held biennially.

This year, it will be attended by psychiatrists, doctors, clinical psychologists, counsellors, traditional and complementary practitioners, occupational therapists, nurses and carers.

All healthcare professionals attending the conference will be awarded continuous professional development (CPD) points.

Psychiatry, as practised in Malaysia, is still in early development.

“Very few private hospitals have inpatient psychiatric services, while existing government hospitals and university hospital units are pretty basic and may not provide the comfort and environment needed for recovery,” says Prof Philip.

He adds that most insurance companies do not cover mental illness, although it is common and can be treated with good outcomes, if sufferers seek treatment early.

“Many primary health caregivers, both private general practitioners and public community clinic medical officers, are not well trained in managing mental illness, leading to mentally ill individuals not being identified and treated at earlier stages of their disease.

“There still exists among Malaysians a very negative stigma attached to mental illness, and often, the symptoms of mental disorders are attributed to evil spiritual sources rather than the disordered functioning of the brain.

“Support groups for mental illness are few. This social stigma often becomes an obstacle to seeking early treatment and preventing worse outcomes,” he says.

Prof Phillips adds that funding towards psychiatric services is not in keeping with the epidemiology of the condition in the country, and some newer, more effective psychiatric medications are not available from government clinics or hospitals.

“Long-stay hospitals are still actively admitting and perhaps causing more harm through institutionalism,” he says.

It is only recently that addiction treatment is being offered as part of medical services, both in public and private healthcare.

“Evidence-based treatments are hamstrung by irrational fears of potential adverse effects and cultural biases; many mentally ill patients fear starting or staying on effective medications.

“Steps to deter drug dependency by punishing drug addicts are socially popular, but these are ultimately counterproductive in treating and rehabilitating drug and alcohol addicted individuals.

“Despite strict laws combating drug use, alcohol and drug dependency rates are still rising, and treatment options remain few and recidivism rates stay high.

“Current drug and alcohol abuse preventive measures do not seem to make any sizeable impact on teenagers as addiction rates among teenagers continue to rise.

“Mental health disorders continue to cause disability and loss of productivity among a significant number of Malaysians,” observes Dr Lim.

“A multidisciplinary team utilising a holistic approach, involving primary care physicians, specialists, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers and nurses, would better serve the mentally ill in Malaysia,” he adds.

“It is our hope that this conference helps increase awareness and understanding of the challenges facing those with mental disorders and substance abuse issues, and spur efforts to make psychiatric care in Malaysia more effective and in line with contemporary worldwide standards in psychiatric care,” he says.


For more information on the 8th Malaysian Conference on Healthy Ageing, visit www.healthyageing.org.