A small equatorial country located on the northern coast of Borneo in Southeast Asia, Brunei Darussalam has one of the world’s highest standards of living due to its ample oil and gas reserves. As of 2023, its total population is 452,524. Bruneian inhabitants do not pay income tax and are able to access free health care and education. As a monarchy, it is currently ruled by the world’s second richest royal: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Since the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1984, Brunei has become an industrialized and developed nation. However, mental health in Brunei is an issue among young people in the country.

7,000 Mental Health Cases 

Statistics have shown that depression, anxiety and stress are common mental health issues. The psychiatry services in Brunei face an increase in young patients who report high levels of stress and fatigue, with an estimated 7,000 cases. Young people in Brunei, most of them in their early 20s, are the most vulnerable to mental health problems. Children and adolescents are also among those struggling with mental health issues. Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital Psychiatry Services head Dr. Hilda Ho stated that “We are getting an increasing number of referrals. The trend is we are seeing more and more young people.” But, according to the Ministry of Health of Brunei, this figure may not be accurate as it does not accurately reflect the extent of the situation among Brunei’s youth population.

Young People are Hindered by Stigma

At the Brunei Darussalam Youth Open Space in October 2020, a discussion by its participants on navigating the mental health problem concluded that Brunei’s young people face the challenge of stigma. It is most particularly within family circles where mental health problems are seen as shameful. At the meeting, none of the participants identified their parental figures as a source of help for mental health issues.

Brunei Launches Its Mental Health Action Plan

The Brunei Darussalam Mental Health Action Plan 2022-2025 aims to address mental health through a comprehensive strategy that involves promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. Taking account of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brunei’s action plan also aims to address the challenges that the health workforce faces. With the action plan signed by Brunei’s Ministry of Health and five non-governmental organizations, the opportunity to increase public knowledge and awareness could be a step forward to improving mental health in Brunei.

Tackling Stigma

There are ongoing efforts to tackle the taboo around mental health in Brunei. The opening up of safe spaces facilitates open discussions about mental health. Services that provide counseling support, therapy and psychiatric consultations are becoming easily accessible. Community-based organizations such as Mind Your Mind and Cope for Hope promote mental health and well-being through their public service campaigns.

In addition, Brunei’s recent launch of the hotline service Talian Harapan 145 provides a safe and confidential space for those who are struggling with mental health. Trained mental health professionals from the Ministry of Health are responsible for operating the hotline. 

Mental Health Programs 

The program “Mental Health in Children” focuses on raising mental health awareness among parents and guardians. Run by the Mawar Association, the program helps to maintain children’s well-being. This initiative places a particular emphasis on the importance of parental figures in understanding and addressing mental health issues. Collaborating with the Ministry of Health, the first 2021 online session garnered 100 participants. The second 2022 session had 47 participants in attendance. The third session is scheduled to take place in October 2023.

Another recent event is the “Mental Health Awareness in Religious Perspective”, a mental health program for Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Science College students. With 200 students in attendance, the program educates students and school faculty members on the importance of mental health. By utilizing a holistic approach, the program also actively works to combat stigma and encourage the discussion of mental health.

Looking Ahead

With mental health in Brunei undergoing a period of development, the country continues to expand its mental health services. The Ministry of Health recognizes the importance of public education, alongside the promotion of services that cater to mental health and well-being, in addressing the stigma around the matter. The country’s consistent efforts to improve mental health could result in positive impacts on the mental health of Brunei’s young people.

Grace Clay
Photo: Flickr