KUALA LUMPUR - It is estimated that two-thirds of mentally ill patients would rather seek the help of bomohs and priests than seek medical treatment.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, who disclosed this, hoped the traditional healers would refer their clients to hospitals.
"Many are not seeking proper treatment for mental illnesses as they tend to turn to bomohs and priests.
"They are not aware that their condition can be treated in hospital," he said when opening the 8th Congress of the Asian Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions and the 19th Malaysian Conference of Psychological Medicine here yesterday.
Dr Subramaniam added that turning to traditional healers for help for mental health issues was common across all ethnic groups in Malaysia.
The minister also expressed concern that the public tended to sympathise with cancer patients but stigmatised patients with mental health issues, adding that this made things difficult for doctors.
"We need to look at it in the same way as other illnesses," he said.
Dr Subramaniam said 70 per cent of mental health patients were unemployed, adding that some of these patients could function normally with medication.
As many as 13 per cent of adults and 20 per cent of children suffer from psychological disorders in Malaysia, according to the 2011 National Health and Morbidity Survey.
Malaysian Psychiatric Association president Prof Dr Nor Zuraida Zainal said 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the population suffered from anxiety and depression, 1 per cent with schizophrenia and at least 2 per cent were bipolar.
As part of the plan to further assist individuals with mental illness, she said the association wanted to see mental illnesses covered in health insurance policies.
"We are working closely with Bank Negara to make this a reality. We hope this aim can be achieved soon," Dr Nor Zuraida said.
Dr Subramaniam said it was not known when such coverage would be offered, but expected the premiums to be higher.