Forty-seven Brunei scholarship students studying abroad in the last five years have been diagnosed with mental health problems, Education Minister YB Dato Paduka Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman disclosed on Monday.

Responding to a question posed by YB Khairunnisa Hj Ash’ari at the Legislative Council meeting, the minister said the students are mostly recipients of the MoE scholarship. Out of the 47, 42 (17 male and 25 female) are studying in the UK, four male students studying in Australia and one female student studying in the US.

Although the cases represent less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of students, this issue cannot be taken lightly.

Academic factors have been attributed as the main cause of depression and mental disorders. Other factors affecting their mental health include family issues, environment and time management.

“Health and housing play a significant role. These factors are also closely related to each other. These are all triggered by one’s ability to cope with academic pressure or workload,” he added.

Although the cases represent less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of students, the minister said this issue “cannot be taken lightly.” It is a problem that needs to be addressed urgently so that early intervention measures can be provided to prevent any undue things from happening,” he added.

The Scholarship Division in the Ministry of Education takes mental depression and mental disorders among students seriously. “It is Important for this issue to be dealt with in an integrated manner. If there is a case of mental health problem detected, the Ministry of Education will take action according to the existing standard operating procedure,” he said.

The Brunei High Commission in the respective country, the Ministry of Health and Head of Scholarship Division will also be notified of any appropriate actions that should be taken if the student is to return to Brunei, such as hospital treatment and continuous monitoring.

The Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Division of Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital, also organise briefings on ways to prevent and deal with depression or mental disorders during pre-departure briefing for government scholarship recipients every year.

In a previous interview with The Scoop, Dr Hilda Ho, head of Psychiatry Services at the Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital, said that in Brunei, youth in their 20s are most vulnerable to mental health problems. However, she noted that her department also receives referrals for patients as young as university students.