Refugees lack access to mental health professionals, UNHCR says

Lack of access to mental health professionals is a major problem for refugees, said the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

In a statement to Malaysiakini After Tuesday’s murder-suicide involving a refugee family in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur, the aid agency said the problem was generally due to financial constraints and a lack of awareness.

“Refugees who have experienced forced displacement often face psychological stress from experiences in countries of origin, transit and asylum.

“Maintaining mental health is crucial for the general well-being of individuals. In refugee camps, lack of access to mental health professionals is often a major problem, due to financial constraints and a lack of awareness.

“It is also compounded by the lack of specialist expertise in the country to address the mental health needs of refugees that arise from their particular circumstances,” spokesman Yante Ismail said.

Malaysiakini contacted UNHCR Malaysia for comment on the incident early Tuesday morning, which saw two Myanmar children killed while another brother was seriously injured after being thrown from a flyover by their father, who then plunged to death from the same spot.

It was later revealed that the father, 38, had been suffering from depression for around a year after being unable to find a job and being infected with Covid-19.

Seek support from UNHCR Partners

The factors that contribute to suicide are often complex and mental health issues do not necessarily lead to suicide.

Although a serious public health problem, suicides can be prevented with timely, evidence-based and often inexpensive interventions, according to the World Health Organization.

Yante said refugees in Malaysia can access mental health and psychosocial support services provided by UNHCR’s NGO partners here.

They include the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation, Health Equity Initiatives, Acts, Humankind and the QFFD clinic run by Mercy Malaysia.

Those wishing to engage in services can find their contact details via the UNHCR information portal RefugeeMalaysia.org or by click here.

According to Yante, UNHCR also has an online psychosocial support group project with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) for refugee women.

They can seek help with questions about their mental health and emotional well-being, especially in times of Covid-19.

If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, or know someone who is, please call the following helplines:

Talian Kasih
Direct line: 15999

The friends
Direct line: 03-76272929

Agape Counseling Center Malaysia
Hotline: 03-77855955 or 03-77810800

Life Line Malaysia Association
Direct line: 03-42657995

The Ministry of Health and Mercy Malaysia have also set up a support line for frontline workers and others emotionally affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The line is available at 014-3223392, 011-63996482, 011-63994236 or 03-29359935, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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