BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – From 2005 to 2016, the Ministry of Health (MoH) recorded 600 consultations for child and adolescent mental health services at RIPAS Hospital — a strong indication that mental health problems start manifesting in people at a young age.

In a statement released in conjunction with World Mental Health Day, health minister YB Dato Paduka Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the rate of bullying and suicide in Brunei was increasing at an alarming rate.

We need to be prepared to address these issues by taking preventative measures and developing pragmatic initiatives and guidelines, he said.

Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the number of suicides in Brunei increased by 62 percent, according to official police statistics. Since 2014, there have been 46 reported suicides and 43 attempted suicides.

World Mental Health Day is marked every year on October 10, to highlight and raise awareness of mental health issues. This year the global theme is: “Youth and Mental Health in a Changing World”.

“It is an opportunity to review the measures we have implemented to increase mental health awareness; mobilise resources and support mental health initiatives,” the minister said.

In line with this, he added that the MoH has introduced a nationwide anti-bullying campaign in collaboration with the Department of Schools, as well as a mental health awareness programme and social media campaign called “Mind Your Mind“.

With the spike in suicides cases, the ministry also announced last August that it is developing a national hotline for suicide prevention.

“The Ministry of Health believes that preventive measures, preliminary approaches, fostering resilience, and ensuring that information and services are available to the population are the key factors in creating a healthy future for our youth,” said Dato Dr Hj Md Isham.

“This is very important in… ensuring that every individual can fulfill their potential for a full life.”

Young people most vulnerable to depression, anxiety

The World Health Organization said that, globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29, with alcohol and drug abuse exacerbating mental illnesses.

Brunei’s health minister said that as adolescents and young adults go through rapid life changes, it can lead to depression, fear, or excessive anxiety. Local health authorities have also said that youth in their early 20s are most vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

“The pressures and challenges that arise either from the physical or virtual world have many negative effects on young people, such as cyberbullying… It is difficult to handle because at the same time, the use of online technology also provides many benefits,” he said.

Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said there has been growing public awareness in Brunei to help people confront mental health problems and lessen stigma. He urged Bruneian youth to create more platforms for open and non-judgemental discussions, and to be accepting and compassionate towards those with mental illness.