I REFER to the front page report "Mental health screening for more students" (NST, Jan 6).
Kudos to the paper for highlighting the fact that mental health among children is a growing concern.
According to the latest National Health Morbidity Survey, 20 per cent of school children aged between 5 and 15 suffer from stress, anxiety and depression.
The 2011 survey also revealed the number of schoolchildren aged 15 and below increased from 13 per cent in 1996 to 19.4 per cent in 2006 and 20 per cent in 2011.
As a member of the Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council, I was involved with the Health Ministry two years ago in discussions to implement a pilot project called the "Healthy Mind Programme", aimed at conducting screening on symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress (DAS) among students in six secondary schools.
The study, which commenced in March 2011, was submitted to the Healthy Ministry in October the same year.
The project found secondary schoolchildren had severe symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and needed to be given appropriate intervention, which include counselling and mental health coping skills.
I am glad to note the pilot project has been accepted by the ministry.
The Healthy Mind Programme conducted last year revealed 7pc of 19,919 Form Four students from 157 schools nationwide showed signs of severe stress, anxiety and depression.
The growing number of students suffering from DAS has compelled the authorities to extend the mental health screening to students in Forms Two to Five.
We, therefore, need to train more psychiatrists and psychologists for our hospitals and clinics while non-governmental organisations should be given financial assistance to promote awareness of mental health in the community.
We are also lacking in psychiatric occupational therapists.
Stigma is one of the biggest challenges surrounding mental illness and is a barrier to the quality of life of mental health patients and their family members, more so than the illness itself.
The increase in stress levels, whether in schools or at workplaces, is one of the major factors causing more people to develop mental disorders.
Among the mental health activities that can be implemented in schools is the promotion of mental health literacy through talks, exhibitions and quizzes, which can involve PTAs and school clubs.
Schools need to have more trained counsellors with skills to guide students on how to handle stress. This issue must be addressed with a sense of urgency.
If they do not get our help, our nation is going to be burdened with a generation suffering from serious mental problems in an ever-increasing competitive world.
We need to instill basic self-confidence in a child so that any failures or disappointments will be seen as opportunities to try again, rather than as a lack of ability and taking the road to disaster.
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, member, Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council, Kuala Lumpur NST Opinion Letters-to-the-editor 11/01/2014