BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to improve the country’s strategies in dealing with mental health, said the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports on Saturday.

YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abidin said the pandemic affects mental health, hence the need to also strengthen social support and adopt a healthy lifestyle. 

The minister was speaking during the ‘Mental Health Fair’ to mark World Mental Health Day 2020 at IBTE Sultan Saiful Rijal Campus in Berakas.

“Among the best practices that can be observed from other countries in ASEAN is the improvement of counselling services as well as psychological and emotional support through 24-hour hotlines,” he said.

MCYS currently has two helplines –  Welfare Line 141 which provides counselling and allows the public to report incidents of abuse, neglect and exploitation as well as 24-hour hotline ‘Talian Anak 121‘ for child abuse cases.

Another helpline is the health ministry’s ‘Talian Harapan 145’, which started in February last year to provide crisis support for mental health.

The minister said these channels provide callers a safe space to discuss their problems, seek advice and receive counselling anonymously.

“On a larger scale, continuous emphasis should be given to lifelong mental health promotion starting from childhood through early childhood intervention programmes and adolescent development programmes,” said YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Hj Aminuddin.

He added that the government has created the ‘Brunei Bebas Buli’ intervention programme to tackle bullying in schools.

Almost 100 new mental illness cases were reported among children and adolescents from January to September this year.

Health is everyone’s business, the minister said, adding that it is important to have an effective support system, listening and giving voice to people with mental illness.

“There is a significant increase in the number of organisations and individuals focusing on mental health in the last three years.

“The establishment of associations and initiatives such as the Brunei Darussalam Counselling Association, Cureheart,, Clarity Sdn Bhd and Qudoz Management, shows that more people are  aware of the importance of mental health and that taking care of mental health is a social responsibility,” he added.

Progresif CEO Hjh Nurul Haniah (2R) and motivational speaker Ustazah Sharifah Khadijah (C) speak at panel for World Mental Health Day 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Health Promotion Centre

Psychology firm Clarity is seeing more organisations and companies interested in formulating employee assistance programmes to look after their staff’s well-being.

These organisations realised how the COVID-19 outbreak can have a lasting impact on workers, said Clarity director and psychologist Todd McPherson, who was a panellist at the Mental Health Forum.

“Some companies have recently approached us and they are trying to set up an employee assistance programme where the companies pay for employees to come for counselling if they need it and it doesn’t even have to be work-related,” he said.

An employee assistance programme (EAP) assists workers with personal or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental and emotional well-being.

He added that counselling would allow the employees to work through their problems and they would be able to stay focused and productive at work and take fewer sick days.

The programme is an example of how organisations can create greater access to mental health care, which is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day.

The World Mental Health Day theme of “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access” aims to raise awareness and understanding of mental disorders.