Not getting better: Agong’s daughter, association sound alarm over mental health situation in Malaysia

Milad Hassandarvish
The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences is taking a toll on the nation's mental health condition. - Picture by Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash via Reuters
The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences is taking a toll on the nation's mental health condition. - Picture by Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash via Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 ― The Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged uncertainties have put many Malaysians under immense distress.

The emotional distress is now even more fueled by other factors including change in work environment, loss of jobs and income as well as fears for public health safety.

The recent incident at Suria KLCC in Kuala Lumpur ― where a 25-year-old man fell to his death from the fourth floor ― has once again renewed concerns among mental health advocates in Malaysia.

Following the incident, Dang Wangi district police chief ACP Mohd Zainal Abdullah confirmed that the young victim was found to have a psychiatric treatment card from the Klang Hospital in the bag he was carrying.

Malaysian Mental Health Association president Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj told Malay Mail that the pandemic has seen increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression worldwide.

In Malaysia, the latest reports show a total of 465 attempted suicide cases were referred to the Health Ministry for treatment between January and July last year.

Dr Mohanraj said suicides were overwhelmingly rooted in depression although there were also other causes for it.

“Stories such as someone jumping from a tall building or something similar never fails to shock us and the challenge is that nobody knows who can have depression.

“We must distinguish normal sadness which might be temporary from clinical depression.”

He said common signs of clinical depression may include, persistent low mood for two weeks and shows a loss of interest in pleasurable activities.

“Other signs to watch out for are loss of appetite and weight, irritability, feelings of guilt or hopelessness and the inability to concentrate.”

Dr Mohanraj warned that severe depression can bring out suicidal thoughts and intentions.

“It is good to look out for some common warning signs of suicide in people close to us whom we suspect to have depression.

“Increasingly, isolating oneself, talking about death or being a burden to others, feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain, increasing use of alcohol or drugs and leaving morbid or farewell comments on social media should ring alarm bells.”

When it comes to depression, Dr Mohanraj said people simply cannot snap out of it and it must not be seen as a personality defect either.

For those who interact with people with emotional issues, Dr Mohanraj noted that it was important to listen to them with compassion and non-judgmentally.

“Even if we cannot do much to help them, listening to them, offer emotional support and guide them to seek appropriate professional help from primary care doctors.

“With early detection, depression can be treated and lives could be saved.”

Breaking the stigma

When it comes to tackling mental health issues in Malaysia, the stigma and misconceptions among the general public still remains the biggest barrier.

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.”

The Green Ribbon Group was formed this January to help push the mental health agenda forward in Malaysia.

The social enterprise aims to empower stakeholders involved in raising awareness about the mental health issues people currently face in the country through advocacy, fundraising and collaboration.

*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 sam@befrienders.org.my

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