BRUNEI-MUARA – Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital is seeing more cases of self-harm among youth, according to the hospital’s head of Psychiatry Services.

In an interview with The Scoop, Dr Hildo Ho said that the trend is not isolated to Brunei but is happening around the world.

“We see a lot of self-cutting and other harmful behaviors, such as [teenagers] severely scratching themselves and ingesting poisons,” she said on the sidelines of a public lecture at Universiti Brunei Darussalam to mark World Mental Health Day.

The psychiatrist said with lack of data and studies on mental health in the sultanate, it was difficult to pinpoint why Bruneian youth were resorting to self-harm, but added that behaviours like cutting are often a response to being overwhelmed by mental or emotional pain. 

Our clinics are really busy now, but since Brunei does not have statistics [on the rate and prevalence of self-harm], we can’t say whether the situation shows that the rate is increasing.”

Dr Ho said that the Psychiatry Services section is currently conducting research to understand the behavioral patterns of self-harm among Bruneian patients, in order to understand and address the issue better.

“You can imagine that to collect data on something like this is complicated, because there are multiple things to consider, like how many people report these incidents and how many of them just stay at home without reporting it,” she said.

“We are aware that there are still people who are scared to report.”

Dr Ho said that the increase in patients, particularly teenagers, being referred to Psychiatry Services should be viewed as a positive development, as it could signal a mindset shift among Bruneians seeking help with mental health.

She added that a good number of teens coming into the clinic were referrals from schools, stating that teachers are now better equipped to identify students who need help. 

Suicide prevention helpline

In response to the rising rate of suicides, the health ministry announced last August it would establish a national hotline for suicide prevention, which is still in development.

Speaking on the progress of the helpline, Dr Ho said they are “working hard at it”. 

Declining to mention specifics, the psychiatrist said they are still mulling over many considerations, such as operating hours for the helpline, recognising that there is a need for the hotline to be available beyond office hours.

“Setting up a new service requires a lot of preparation, and must be done properly,” she stressed, adding that anyone manning the hotline will be a trained professional.

“I know overseas they have volunteer operators, but we are not doing that here because it’s a new thing, so it’s better if we have trained personnel.”

Dr Ho went on to say that with more dialogue on mental health issues in Brunei, individuals suffering from mental illness will hopefully benefit from the public discourse.

“Talking about mental health shouldn’t be depressing, it should be a message of hope that there is help out there. Going to a doctor because you feel depressed should not be any different then going to a dentist when your tooth is sore.”