Scrolling through my news apps lately and stumbling upon headlines like, “Over 2400 suicides since 2018” and “78 000 couples divorced in the last 18 months in Malaysia” is certainly heart-wrenching to say the least. 638 suicides have been reported in the country until July which is almost triple the number for the same period of time last year. On average, 3 people have taken their lives daily this year. Truly heartbreaking.
The impact of the pandemic certainly extends beyond physical health and the economy. It has caused a deleterious rise in divorces, domestic violence, and declining mental health. Joblessness, loss of business, diminished social interaction, an abrupt change in lifestyle, and a rise in tension among couples are some of the consequences following prolonged movement control orders (MCO) that has been adversely contributing to the rising mental health issue. According to the Ministry of Health, Malaysia (MOH), 43,000 calls were made to its Psychological First Aid Hotline from March to December 2020, showing the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Never-ending social isolation, economic instability, and deaths of loved ones due to Covid-19 have contributed to anxiety and depression among the people. The impact of limited social interaction as a result of online learning and uncertainty in the academic journey on the other hand jeopardises the mental well-being of the students.
The worrying increase in suicide rate is a direct correlation of debilitating mental health among the community and the only flip side to it is the awareness it has created recently on the topic. The gender facet of suicide which shows a higher suicide rate among men than women also needs to be understood well. Generally, men have a lower tendency to seek help for mental illness following threatened masculinity perception or polarised mental health stigma associated with their gender and this has to change. Mental health needs to be addressed as a problem that stretches beyond gender, race, religion, or status in order for it to be treated purely as a health condition that requires medical attention, just like any other physical condition.
Despite the magnitude of this issue, the question is, are we really doing enough to tackle the problem? Mental health is still a taboo and the acceptance of the condition the same way as physical health is still far from reality. Education and awareness are extremely crucial to destigmatize mental illness which will encourage more people to seek help when needed. Decriminalising suicides and attempted suicides are also going to encourage people with depression and suicidal thoughts to come forward for therapy without any guilt. We have recently celebrated National Suicide Prevention Week from 5th to 11th September. Many important discussions have been initiated and numerous NGOs have urged the government to decriminalise suicide in the country to prevent arbitrary sentencing and to encourage psychological treatment. The government has also been urged to increase funds for the management of mental health, recruitment of mental health professionals, suicide prevention helplines, and trained personnel to prepare adequate resources to tackle rising mental health problems.
As a community, the responsibility of normalising mental health discussions is upon us. We have to educate ourselves about mental health issues and it is incumbent to acknowledge mental illness without any judgements. Check on your loved ones, check on yourself and prioritise mental health as much as you do with physical health if not more. Most importantly, it is okay to not be okay, and it is more than okay to acknowledge and seek help for it.
Note: You can reach out to Befrienders https://www.befrienders.org.my/ and Talian Kasih https://www.kpwkm.gov.my/kpwkm/index.php?r=portal/full&id=NGtVYXZIMjRqM3diWmV2K005Mm9Hdz09 for emotional support or counselling services if needed.
Thanusha M Ganesan is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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