Many Opening Up on Mental Health Problems, Thanks to Covid-19

By Zalinah Noordin
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THERE is actually a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic as more and more affected individuals are beginning to open up about mental health, an issue many had shied away from discussing.

The stigma surronding mental health is now slowly lessening following Covid-19, according to a psychiatrist.

“Many have come out from their shell and  started becoming more open about mental health which has affected many mentally in the pandemic area and the lockdown has worsened some already existing conditions.

“In the past, the stigma on mental health caused many to shy away from seeking help but because of the lockdown, many have come forward, realising they indeed need help,” said Kuching Mental Health Association Chairman Dr Gan Chee Kuan.

According to Dr Gan, there has been a significant increase in mental health awareness and the number of patients has seen an estimated increase by thirty percent.

Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are some of the reported cases with many contributing factors especially isolation, work and family problems.

He stressed on the importance of addressing problems faced by those affected by the pandemic and lockdown through communication.

“Yes with the advent of technology we do have some form or communication but nothing beats face-to-face communication and having the feeling of having someone to talk to which will help tremendously.

“It is good to be honest and open up about mental health issues- can be anyone from family to friends and even co-workers. Not everyone can relate but you will be surprised how many suffer in silence fearing the stigma so opening up actually creates more awareness. 

“Even if they can only lend a listening ear, that is good enough or some can even suggest where to get help,” said Dr Gan.

The well-experienced psychiatrist said that while medication helps overcome many mental disorders, it should be the last resort.

“If all else fails then medication is needed,” he told TVS when contacted .

Kuching Mental Health Association Chairman Dr Gan Chee Kuan

Abuse, stress, mental torture and depression are somewhat becoming common from the corona virus lockdown since last year. 

The lockdown, which saw a ban on travel, gatherings and economic activity, ended up lasting three months last year.

Many ended up losing their source of income, giving rise to domestic violence and child abuse cases which mental health expert’s attribute to stress.

Many also went into depression due to isolation and social recluse following the lockdown, not forgetting the stress faced by frontliners themselves who have also turned to getting psychological aid.

Just when many are about to recover from last year’s episode, a sudden surge in cases this year has brought about a second round of lockdown since May 29 this year. While the lockdown this time around is expected to last until June 14, uncertainties loom ahead.

Over half a million Malaysians experience symptoms of depression, according to the latest National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2019).

Last year, a total of 465 cases of attempted suicide were referred to the Ministry of Health (MoH) for treatment between January and July, Health Minister Datuk Seri Adham Baba was reported as saying.

“The number is expected to rise based on the ‘red flag calls’ we get during the lockdown period and it is alarming that we have received a total of 1,146 of such calls since the lockdown started.

“Red flag calls are made by those  struggling with suicidal thoughts, attempting suicide, abuse and mental tortures,” said the founder of Talking Buddy on grounds of anonymity.

Talking Buddy is an online company which operates on Instagram, offering online coaching, counselling and emotional support.

She told TVS that since the online company was set up last year, many have turned to it to seek help on various problems namely mental and emotional issues.

“However not all calls are red flags, some just called in out of loneliness, boredom and to get someone to talk to or to vent their frustrations.

“We have regular callers who call in just to share with us how they spent their day and just to feel like they have someone next to them, a reassuring voice.

“Loneliness can make people do funny things sometimes,” she said.

She also revealed that the latest call received was an attempted suicide case where a woman called up claiming her boyfriend had threatened to take his own life.

Among the distress messages received on Talking Buddy’s Instagram
An example of a “red flag call” through Instagram

“We managed to intervene by calling the police and he did not proceed with his plan,” she added.

The latest updated survey shows almost half a million Malaysians experience symptoms of depression, according to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2019).

The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye had reportedly said that NHMS 2019 also found that 424,000 children experience mental health problems.

Mental health issue should not to be taken lightly as it could lead to unfortunate and untoward incidents, something that could have been easily overcome with proper help and advice.

However, the society should first acknowledge the existence of mental health problems before it could be accepted as a kind of illness which is not uncommon, just like having the flu.

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