Qualitas: GP Clinics as First Line of Care for Mental Health

I believe that work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems. It is sad to know that mental health issues in Malaysia is worrying. In response to this, homegrown and leading primary healthcare provider Qualitas Medical Group (‘Qualitas’) hosted a panel session to raise awareness and initiate robust discussions on mental health at the workplace. Themed, “Mental Health at the Workplace: The Unspoken Truth” was held at Sime Darby Convention Centre days ago.
It was a full house at the forum, the session was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Health, Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health (MSOSH) as well as Third Party Administrators, corporate and industrial leaders. Approximately 100 guests from the public and private sector, as well as civil society has attended the forum.
The event was officiated by Yang Berhormat Puan Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. In her keynote speech, Yang Berhormat Puan Hannah Yeoh emphasized the pressing need to reduce the stigma on mental health issues within the community and the important role that general practitioners can play as the first line of care on mental health. YB also shared that the mental health issues in the country is increasing and the age is getting younger. This is indeed a worrying issues in Malaysia.
Delivering a keynote address at the session, Chairman and Managing Director of Qualitas Medical Group, Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Dr Noorul Ameen Mohamed Ishack said, “Mental health has been extensively discussed by key authorities, non-profit organisations for many years. Sadly, individuals suffering from depression and anxiety are reluctant to seek help as they fear the stigma of being stereotyped. The time has come for immediate practical actions to be taken by all stakeholders – The general practitioners should be empowered to play a more active and positive role in the management of mental health wellness; and for that, changes need to be made by the Government in empowering general practitioners to act as the gatekeeper on mental health.”
While depression and anxiety pose a mental health challenge for sufferers, these issues also have a significant economic impact on the country. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) this year, depression and anxiety is estimated to cost the global economy approximately US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity.1 As businesses thrive on optimum productivity, it is beneficial to both employers and employees to prioritise the wellbeing of employees.
In 2017, a study conducted by AIA Bhd titled “Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality” reported that 12% of employees have high level of anxiety and depressive symptoms.2 A follow up survey in 2018 further revealed that 50.2% of employees have at least one dimension of work-related stress.3 This worrying trend poses a challenge for individuals, companies and society in Malaysia which can have tremendous repercussions if left unaddressed.
Dr Shawaludin Husin, Vice President, Malaysian Society of Occupational Safety and Health shared, “Prevention measures for accidents and injuries that affect one’s physique is no longer sufficient but we need to manage how stress, depression and other mental issues would lead to unforeseen mishaps in the workforce. Thus, organisations need to urgently look into effective safety and health management system and policies that ensures the overall wellbeing, which may include initiatives such as mindfulness training, financial planning, on-the-hour flash walk, among others.”

Primary Healthcare Personnel As The First Line Of Care

In Malaysia, primary healthcare personnel – general practitioners (GPs) have been the first contact for people seeking healthcare. As most GP clinics are well spread out in the neighbourhoods nationwide, the GPs have traditionally been regarded by society as the first line of care.

“Primary healthcare needs to evolve, equipping its workforce with the right knowledge, confidence and capacity to provide mental health support, now more than ever. With primary healthcare practitioners onboard, I am certain that employees will feel less stereotyped and more open to receiving treatment in the early stages. This would greatly improve the mental health outlook in Malaysia, contributing to a positive community, workforce and the nation’s economy”, said Pn Sarah Waheeda Muhammad Hafidz, Consultant Industrial and Occupational Psychologist from Leaderonomics.

“Over the years, many patients have come to the GP clinics complaining of frequent migraine, insomnia, fatigue and impaired concentration. These patients may or may not realise that they are suffering from anxiety and depression. Coupled with the stigma attached to mental health wellness issues, these patients are often reluctant to be seen as visiting mental health professionals. Sufferers are looking to primary healthcare personnel for their needs – As such, we as primary healthcare practitioners need to be empowered, upskilled and be prepared to meet these requirements,” added Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Dr Noorul Ameen Mohamed Ishack.
Today, the role of the primary healthcare is required to shift beyond merely supporting physical wellbeing to becoming the first line of assistance for mental health issues. More and more, the primary healthcare workforce will need to be empowered with the right knowledge, confidence and capacity to provide first line mental health support for patients in their time of need. Let's create a healthy workplace in every company where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees.

The panel session was organised by Qualitas as part of its commitment to continue to provide integrated healthcare within the primary healthcare sector. With over 20 years of experience in the primary healthcare industry, Qualitas operates a regional network of GP clinics with a network of over 200 clinics in Malaysia as well as in Singapore and Australia. The Group is further looking to expand into existing markets as well as new markets in the region.

1 Mental health in the workplace. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/
2 Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.aia.com.my/en/about-aia/media-centre/press-releases/2017/malaysia-healthiest-workplace.html
3 Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality. (2018). Retrieved from https://healthiestworkplace.aia.com/malaysia/eng/2018-results/

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