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Barriers to Seeking Counseling in Malaysia

Over the years, mental health issues have been constantly on the rise around the world, including Malaysia. Statistics showed that one-third of our population age 16 and above is experiencing various mental health disorders such as depression (The Sun Daily, 2016). However, many of us take our mental health for granted although similar care and attention should be given to it as much as it is to our physical body. When we fall sick, we will visit the general practitioner for advice or to get the right medication to treat the symptoms we experienced. This could be rather easy or a spontaneous action for us but this might not be true when it comes to our mental health.

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Seeking professional help such as counseling can be difficult for many of us. It may take us days, months or even years to make a deliberate decision before we could step out with courage to get the help we need. Have we ever wondered why is that so? Well, the culture that we live in has pretty much taught us to live in harmony with others in order to avoid shame, ‘save face’ and to live collectively as members of our society. We learned these values almost as soon as we learn to talk or very early in our lives.

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Living in an Asian culture, we embraced the fact that we will not disclose any negative and private matters to strangers except to our own family members for the fear of bringing shame and despise to our own family. Similarly, counseling requires us to disclose our personal feelings and personal matters that causes emotional disturbances to a trained counselor, who is so-called a ‘stranger’. Therefore, the question whether to seek help or not to seek help arises. The fear of being stigmatized and discriminated by the people around us or being labelled as being ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho’ become more significant to us. We become more self-conscious in our decision-making and perhaps lead us to a crossroad whereby we experience more distress. We would not even weigh the benefits of self-disclosure which counseling requires although we know that too much of self-concealment would lead us to too much pain and despair in the long-term.

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Statistics has revealed that Malaysian young adults committing suicide due to depression had increased this year, which is very much alarming to many of us (Muthiah, 2016) and this has indeed created fears and concerns among counselors especially those who are based in colleges or universities.

University students tend to experience higher level of distress and are more likely to develop mental health problems compared to others because of the overwhelming stress they experience mainly from the new environment and education they are in (Stewart-Brown et al., 2000) which can ultimately put their psychological and physical resources to test (Wittenberg & Norcross, 2001).

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In other words, although university students are constantly looking for independence, they are also gripped with the fear of the unknown when they are being required to step out from their comfort zones, especially when they have to leave their home, family and close friends to pursue their tertiary education. However, living in an Asia country like Malaysia and bound by the cultural values and stigma attached to help-seeking, past studies had revealed that seeking professional psychological help such as counseling can be difficult (Cheng, McDermott, & Lopez, 2015; Salim, 2010).

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Darlene Elizabeth Tan
Darlene Elizabeth Tan holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Upper Iowa University and a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling from Universiti Putra Malaysia. Her interest and passion would be to provide activities, guidance and psychological support to students of all ages. Her vast involvement in volunteering and counselling has helped her to gain experience working with clients and students with different cultural backgrounds, a wide range of emotional issues and personal development needs. In fact, she is keen in assisting and supporting students in a variety of issues, ranging from academic concerns, self-confidence, friendship and etc. She has conducted various psycho-educational workshops for students such as self-esteem, study skills, stress management, non-violent communication and motivation. She is able to provide individual and group counseling by employing Person-Centered approach, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) and Reality Therapy, besides having the knowledge and experience with psychometric testing related to personality assessments and career inventories. Darlene Elizabeth Tan is also a registered and licensed counselor with the Malaysia Board of Counselors and holds a membership with the American Counseling Association. As a professional, she adheres to the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association and also holds a Student Membership from the Malaysian Counseling Association (PERKAMA). She is fluent in English, speaks fair Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien and basic Chinese. In her teaching, she has worked as a graduate teaching assistant as well as a part-time lecturer in University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) and outside of UNMC. At the moment, she is pursuing her PhD in Applied Psychology and currently assisting in Quantitative Methods and convening the Global Psychology and Communication module at UNMC. She continues to stand on her belief that teaching is ultimately a passion which comes from within and involves a holistic approach to education. Living a life of purpose reflects who she is deep inside, her beliefs, values and passion for living. It is all about following her heart and doing what she loves to do with passion and purpose, for every adversity is an adventure, every pain a pilgrimage, every problem a path.

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