The Taboo of Mental health in Sarawakian households

By Hesper Anak Buckland
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IN SARAWAK, most households would normally consider mental health issues as something mythological before the pandemic hit our shores. Most parents would normally tell their children that it’s a phase they’ll grow out of or even tell them it’s useless to be sad and need to shrug it off.

Their understanding of mental health problems can be aligned with its clinically based definition, a mental problem associated with suffering, such as physical pain, or with impairment, for example an inability to work.

It also comes with the stigma of those having mental health problems are ‘crazy’ or ‘mad,’ thereby preventing families from seeking help due to fears of bringing shame on the family.

While the World Mental Health Day was days ago, our community has a long way to go in handling the tedious task of teaching our families and peers the right ways to help.

Somehow through the pandemic, the anomaly of mental health issues sprung into headlines as suicide cases increased amidst the social and economical crisis endured within the same period.

An advice to all parents and everyone, therapists and psychiatrists have always emphasised that unless you’re professionally qualified to do so, please don’t give people mental health advice. You might have the right intentions to console someone in dire need of comfort but your well-meaning advice can come across as not just dismissive, but also make someone feel even more alone and fragile – like no one understands them.

Depression, anxiety and much more were reported to be a mainstay problem especially for those who are still bachelors and bachelorettes.The older generation are also included as they endure this pain as elderly men and women are falling victim to these mental illnesses and are taking on the more severe route of suicide because of illness, isolation or loneliness.

While suicides are preventable, experts say, more must be done to encourage those who are struggling to come forward. If we do not act now, the mental health protection gap is likely to widen, creating an even larger societal and economic risk during the pandemic.

It’s not a lost cause that leaders within the government and celebrities alike have sprung into action to be advocates of mental health issues but the pace of progress has not been quick enough to save those who have already taken their lives.

There were already hotlines and social outlets in Malaysia whom helped victims of mental health by lending their shoulder to cry on. Inevitably, they were left no choice but to find funding from elsewhere to further their cause, as these people had no means of paying for these calls.

This is a global health problem. Acknowledging it is a good first step but we have to do something about it as well. Start with the ones close at heart before branching out to others.

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