Mental health struggles rising in Brunei, but more accurate data needed Health minister acknowledges that stigma may prevent many people from seeking treatment

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Anxiety disorders, depression, and bipolar disorder are on the rise in Brunei, indicating a growing prevalence of mental health issues, said the health minister on Saturday.

Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the number of people with anxiety disorders has increased from 1,515 in 2021 to 1,637 in 2022, though he did not provide data on the prevalence of depression and bipolar disorder.

“It is important to note that these statistics are based only on the number of patients seeking treatment at health centres.

“Therefore the actual number of people experiencing mental health issues may be higher due to factors such as stigma, social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other reasons,” he said at a mental health seminar organised by the Seri Begawan Religious Teachers University College.

The rate of mental health issues was higher among youth, women, singles, and those with a history of mental health problems.

The minister also shared that during the first wave of COVID-19, a study surveying 312 healthcare workers found that 85% experienced high levels of burnout, 21% experienced depression and anxiety, and 2% had suicidal thoughts in the past six months.

Incidence of suicide and self-harm

A retrospective study of 124 suicide cases recorded in Brunei over the past 20 years found that the majority of cases were among foreign nationals.

“However, the study was limited by difficulties in collecting sufficient data – suicide and attempted suicide are classified as criminal offences and major sins, therefore making it difficult to obtain consent for autopsies from family members,” Dato Isham said.

In 2015, the suicide rate in Brunei was 1.9 per 100,000 people, which increased to 2.9 per 100,000 people in 2018.

Risk factors for suicide include a history of self-harm — with the risk increasing 50-100 times within the first 12 months after self-harm — and a history of suicidal thoughts, which are present in approximately 50% of suicide cases and even higher among younger individuals at 66%.

A study on self-harm conducted among 99 patients at RIPAS Hospital’s Psychiatry Department found that relationship issues, financial problems and learning difficulties are closely related to intentional self-injury.

Among the patients interviewed for the study, 76% had relationship problems; 31% had financial problems; 23% had learning difficulties; 13% had workplace problems; 13.4 % experienced the loss of a loved one; and 4.5% experienced hallucinations and delusions due to psychosis.

The majority of self-harm cases recorded at RIPAS Hospital did not have a history of mental illness, Dato Isham said.

To find help and support for mental health issues, call the Hope Line at 145. The hotline is operational 24 hours a day.