The government allocated RM 25 billion for health care in the 2017 budget.
According to WHO, Malaysia dedicates 1.5 % of the health care budget on mental health, or approximately RM 375 million. This RM 375 million would be for mental health care in general.
That is far from sufficient. According to US researchers, the cost of depression in the US is USD 210 billion and only 40% of that is spent on treatment. The bulk of the cost is due to direct and indirect cost of related illnesses, loss of workplace productivity, and the economic costs associated with suicide directly linked to depression.
The prevalence of depression in the US is approximately the same as in Malaysia: 10% of the population.
Since there is a lack of specific data for the cost of depression in Malaysia, let’s extrapolate from the US data. It will work out to be about RM 1.9 billion a year, accounting for the difference in population size. In fact this might be an underestimate of the cost of depression in Malaysia, given that there are far few resources available, and thus the cost of loss of workplace productivity would be higher in Malaysia.
Caveat aside, this adds up to:
RM 375 million spent on mental health care while depression alone cost the society RM 1.9 billion.
The country is underspending on mental health care, while the people bear the cost of depression.
There is a clear need for better data on the direct and indirect cost of depression in Malaysia, given that 3 million Malaysians suffer from depression. Knowing the cost of depression will inform us on how to improve the mental health care system, improve accessibility of mental health treatment, and ultimately improve the lives of Malaysians living with depression.
Dr. Chua Sook Ning