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How big data analytics could destigmatize mental health in Malaysia


In September 2016, the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) and technology solutions giant IBM officially announced a collaboration involving the use of big data analytics to gauge public perceptions of mental health in Malaysia.

At the time, MHHA said it hoped to analyse public perceptions in order to enhance the delivery of its mental health programmes.

Towards the end of last week, MMHA and IBM announced that the initial programme will now be followed by IBM experts working with MMHA to build social media strategies to engage at-risk youth.

These social media strategies will be aimed at enhancing public awareness on mental health and its related issues, by suggesting an alternative method to approaching individuals with worrisome symptoms or providing information to those looking for help.

“In teaming up with IBM for this project, MMHA will be able to use social media and the digital environment in an innovative way in managing mental health issues,” said MMHA president See Cheng Siang.

“The aim of the social media approach is to enable MMHA to disarm mental health stigmas, raise awareness on correct health information from reputable sources and aggregate conversations and connections, especially between young people, with others who are experiencing similar challenges,” said See.

 Analytics and social media

IBM Malaysia managing director Ms Chong Chye Neo said the project, which is supported by on a grant the MMHA received in 2016 to use IBM Social Media Analytics, was guided by analytics as well as recently released findings of the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 by Malaysia’s Ministry of Health.

The survey noted that 29.2 percent of Malaysians aged 16-years-old and above (4.2 million out of 14.4 million) are suffering from mental health problems. The survey found that highest prevalence was recorded among 16 to 19 years old. The project is also timely as the theme for this year’s World Health Day is ‘Depression, Let’s Talk’.¬†

MMHA - IBM (April 2017)

MMHA and IBM volunteers giving the workshop conducted by IBM consultants Susan Slocum (6th from left) and Claire Disney (5th from left) the thumbs up. MMHA president See Cheng Siang is standing fourth from the left.

Chong said analytics also uncovered the potential of social media in destigmatizing mental health and encouraging those with questions or symptoms to reach out for help.

Chong also added, “The outcome will enable MMHA to better understand the social media behaviours of youth at risk and effectively increase engagement outreach.”

This consulting effort is part of IBM’s Impact Grant program – a pro bono initiative that provides consulting expertise and technology such as cognitive, mobile and social to support non-profit organisations.

As part of the Social Media Strategy & Planning Impact Grant for MMHA, IBM will use design thinking to visualise new approaches to social media campaigns related to mental health as well as formulate social media strategies that will be effective in engaging on mental health issues, she said.

This will be followed by creating an actionable roadmap to improve MMHA’s engagement on social media. The roadmap will be implemented jointly in this first year by MMHA and IBM employee volunteers.

“With this grant, we would have committed RM145, 000 in technology and expertise as part of our commitment to make an impact in the proactive management of this health issue,” Chong said.

MMHA is a non-profit organisation represented at the Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council to the Minister of Health.

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