Malaysia mental health country profile.Int Rev Psychiatry. 2004 Feb-May; 16(1-2):167-76.IR
Malaysia is a tropical country in the heart of south east Asia with a population of 24 million people of diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds living in harmony in 330,000 km(2) of land on the Asian mainland and Borneo. Malaysia, which lies on the crossroads of trade between east and west Asia, has an ancient history as a centre of trading attracting commerce between Europe, west Asia, India and China. It has had influences from major powers that dominated the region throughout its history. Today the country, after independence in 1957, has embarked on an ambitious development project to make it a developed country by 2020. In this effort the economy has changed from one producing raw material to one manufacturing consumer goods and services and the colonial health system has been overhauled and social systems strengthened to provide better services for its people. The per capita income, which was under 1,000 US dollars at independence, has now passed 4,000 US dollars and continues to grow, with the economy largely based on strong exports that amount to over 100 billion US dollars. The mental health system that was based on institutional care in four mental hospitals at independence from British colonial rule in 1957 with no Malaysian psychiatrists is today largely based on over 30 general hospital psychiatric units spread throughout the country. With three local postgraduate training programmes in psychiatry and 12 undergraduate departments of psychiatry in the country--all started after independence--there is now a healthy development of mental health services. This is being supplemented by a newly established primary care mental health service that covers community mental health by integrating mental health into primary health care. Mental health care at the level of psychiatrists rests with about 140 psychiatrists most of whom had undertaken a four-year masters course in postgraduate psychiatry in Malaysia since 1973. However, there continues to be severe shortages of other professionals such as clinical psychologists and social workers in mental health services. There are a few specialists, and specialized services in child, adolescent, forensic, rehabilitative, liaison or research fields of mental health. In the area of services for women and children, as well as the disabled in the community, there are strong efforts to improve the care and provide services that are in keeping with a caring society. New legislation on these are being passed every year and the setting up of a Ministry for Women's Affairs is one such move in recent years. Mental health in Malaysia has been slow in developing but has in the past decade seen important strides to bring it on par with other branches of medicine.