It's been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic begun, and many has found restrictions and masks suffocating not just physically, but mentally as well. Learning to cope with the new normal has taken a toll mentally on many people as the pandemic’s uncertain effects on one’s life could bring about extremely stressful events.
May is a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma so many experience. When it comes to tackling mental health issues in Malaysia, the stigma and misconceptions among the general public still remains the biggest barrier.
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 (NHMS), there was an increase in mental health problems, from 10.7% in 1996 to 29.2% in 2015.
“When the pandemic strikes, it is likely that the increase is even more so as the uncertainty could threaten our sense of safety and bring a sense of hopelessness in individuals, especially when they experience stressful life events,” Relate Malaysia clinical psychologist Lum Khay Xian explained.
This includes loss of income, change in class format, family conflicts, loneliness, school closures and reopening of schools, and loss of loved ones during the pandemic.
Suicides were also increasing. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba told the Dewan Rakyat last December that 465 attempted suicide cases were referred to the ministry for treatment between January and July 2020.
In November last year, the police revealed that 266 individuals had taken their own lives between March and October, with 25% of the cases relating to debts, followed by family (24%) and marriage problems (23%).
Five months into the first MCO, the National Fire and Rescue Department had attended to 88 suicide attempts, of which 78 people were rescued, seven injured and three died.
To break the stigma surrounding the topic, mental health advocate and Green Ribbon Group founder Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah said a national effort is needed to help those in need.
“We know that those who attempt or commit suicide are likely to be mentally distressed, but we may be unaware that suicide is largely preventable.
“We must offer support non-judgmentally to those in distress, and we need to increase our efforts in building a nation where individuals can seek help for their mental health challenges without fear, hesitation, or shame.”
*If you are lonely, distressed, or having negative thoughts, Befrienders offers free and confidential support 24 hours a day. Contact Befrienders KL at 03-76272929 or 04-281 5161/1108 in Penang, or 05-547 7933/7955 in Ipoh or email [email protected]
Reference Links -
 the Malaysian Reserve
 American Hospital Association
 Malay Mail