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Mental health issues are reported to be on the rise in many countries and Malaysia is one of them. According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2015, there were approximately 4.2 million Malaysians aged 16 years and above experiencing mental health issues. This number is predicted to increase by now due to increasing life stressors such as work and financial burden.
Mental health problems not only occur among adults, but they also affect adolescents in Malaysia. According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2017, the three most significant mental health problems among Malaysian adolescents were depression, anxiety and stress. The purpose of this survey was to determine the prevalence of depression, anxiety and stress among adolescents ranging from age 13 to 17 years old using Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale (DASS-21).
There were a few significant findings obtained from this survey. Firstly, anxiety affected most adolescents in Malaysia, followed by depression and stress. The prevalence of anxiety among Malaysian adolescents was approximately 40%, which also suggested that in every 5 Malaysian adolescents, 2 of them were anxious. There were more girls (42%) being affected by anxiety compared to boys (37%). In terms of ethnicity, the prevalence of anxiety was highest among Indians (47%), followed by Malays (39%) and Chinese (36%). Adolescents of age 13 (42%) and 17 (42%) were most prevalent to anxiety, followed by adolescents of age 16 (41%), 14 (37%) and 15 (37%).
Depression was another mental health issue which affected many Malaysian adolescents. Approximately 20% of adolescents was prevalent to depression in Malaysia; which suggested that every 1 out of 5 adolescents was depressed. The prevalence of depression was slightly higher among boys (19%) compared to girls (18%). In terms of ethnicity, Indians (33%) were most prevalent to depression, followed by Chinese (21%) and Malay (16%). As for age variable, the prevalence of depression for all age groups ranged between 16% to 21%; whereby 13-year-olds (21%) were the most prevalent to depression, followed by 16-year-olds (19%), 14-year-olds (17%), 17-year-olds (17%) and 15-year-olds (16%).
Stress was also a significant mental health problem affecting Malaysian adolescents. According to the NHMS 2017, 1 in every 10 adolescents was prevalent to stress. This indicated that approximately 10% of adolescents in Malaysia experienced stress problem. In terms of gender, there were slightly more girls (10%) who were prevalent to stress compared to boys (9%). As for ethnicity, trend similar to depression was observed, where Indians (15%) were most prevalent to stress, followed by Chinese (10%) and Malays (9%). Prevalence of stress was highest among adolescents of age group 13 (11%) and 17 (11%), followed by age group 15 (9%), 16 (9%) and finally 14 (8%).
From this survey, it is clearly shown that many Malaysian adolescents are prevalent to mental health issues and this number may be increasing every day but many of them may not be aware of this. To allow early detection of mental health problems, government should develop effective mental health screenings and assessments which are easily accessible to the public.