Orygen Global recently assembled a civil society cooperation event on behalf of the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with mental health organisations across the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). At a time where people are experiencing significant social isolation due to lockdowns, insecure employment and intermittent education, the mental health and wellbeing of people within ASEAN nations is more important than ever.
The forum provided an opportunity to promote current mental health innovations that have been developed in the Southeast Asian region during the pandemic. Keynote presentations from Australia, Brunei and Malaysia opened the session followed by discussion groups focussed on:
- raising public awareness of mental health issues;
- linking people with mental ill-health to support; and
- using technology to expand your reach.
One of the keynote presenters Prof Dato' Dr Andrew Mohanraj Chandrasekaran, President of the Malaysia Mental Health Association, addressed participants about the utilisation of technology as a way of expanding reach of mental health programs and supports.
Dr Chandrasekaran explained how technology is the new frontier in mental health support as well as data collection. Dr Chandrasekaran also touched on the emerging issue of human capital in the entire region; current trends in mental health applications; advantages/disadvantages of technological interventions in mental health support; and the concerns that need addressing.
- There is an overwhelming need to increase human capital needs and resources in mental health, particular due to the pandemic e.g. a spike in PTSD is predicted for font-line workers.
- Great evolutions have occurred in technology in recent years which have made it easier to access programs utilising different modes of technology be it web based or apps such as ones that offer skills training for people to learn new ways of thinking and apps that track passive symptoms, e.g. analysing vocal tones. The data collected by these apps can give service providers better insights to developing better interventions.
- The advantages of mental health of technological interventions include providing support in rural areas and guaranteeing anonymity to some extent. The disadvantages include overselling/promising more than what can be delivered and technical issues.
- The challenges needing addressing in Malaysia are particularly around the lack of industry standards on App effectivity. Dr Chandrasekaran strongly recommends that App effectiveness standards should be maintained and regulated.
- The pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues in the Malaysian population and stigma still exists around classification of mental health professionals (e.g. counsellor, social worker etc.).
- COVID apps that were used during the pandemic incorporated mental health services and as a result, normalised the conversation on mental health issues in Malaysia.
- The Malaysian Mental Health Association expresses the need for more innovative partnerships with social enterprises following recent success from app collaborations e.g. mood tracking app.