Survey Finds High Numbers Of People Suffering From Mental Illness

By Htet Naing Zaw 2 February 2018

NAYPYITAW — A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Sports has found that a high number of people are suffering from psychiatric disorders in Myanmar, Union Health Minister Dr. Myint Htwe told the Union Parliament on Thursday.

“We discovered a high number of depression cases. Maybe it is just a recent trend or maybe it has long existed but we only just found it out,” the minister told the Lower House.

The minister made the remark in response to a question by Taungdwingyi Township lawmaker U Min Thein, who asked if the government would recruit more psychiatrists at district-level government hospitals across the country.

According to Dr. Myint Htwe, his ministry surveyed a township near Yangon in October 2016 and found that nine in every 1,000 people were suffering from depression while nine others were mentally ill.

The ministry also surveyed two other townships near Yangon last year and found that more than 90 in every 1,000 people were suffering from some form of psychiatric disorder, the minister said, without identify the townships on the grounds of medical ethics.

“Not all of them get necessary treatment because the number of psychiatrists is quite low. People don’t give much attention to mental problems in Myanmar, unlike in America. Even Thailand has a Department of Mental Health overseen by a director-general,” Dr. Myint Htwe noted.

U Min Thein said people suffering from depression and mental disorders often commit suicide or crimes including homicide.

“The only effective treatment for depression is consultation with mental health specialists. But people have only very limited knowledge about mental health, and there are only a few psychiatrists. So, it is quite difficult for them to seek treatment,” the lawmaker said.

“People from all walks of life and in different age groups are suffering from depression,” he said, citing the recent example of a sixth grader in Bago Region who hanged himself.

Lawmakers also pointed out that there are few social organizations helping people suffering from psychiatric disorders in Myanmar.

The Ministry of Health is taking steps to produce more psychiatrists to meet the requirements, Dr. Myint Htwe said.

But at present, he said, only 51 government hospitals are staffed with a psychiatrist—two mental health hospitals, nine central-level teaching hospitals, nine 500-bed hospitals, 29 200-bed hospitals, and two drug-rehabilitation hospitals.

According to organizational structure, there should be 133 professors, specialists and assistant specialist psychiatrists employed by the Medical Services Department of the Health Ministry, but there are only 59 at present. And there are only 23 teachers of psychiatry at medical universities although there are positions for be more than 110, Dr Myint Htwe said.

“We’ll expand the organizational structure in the next few years. We have 24 psychiatrists who graduated in December. They will be recruited by hospitals,” Dr. Myint Htwe told Parliament.