CMCO: Have empathy, take care of one another

For people from the B40 group and those who live off their daily wages, no work means no income. This could have disastrous consequences on their well-being and can lead to depression. — Filepic

It is a mere 40-minute drive from where she lives to where her family is, but Iman Sarah Azmi knows that she will likely not see them until the conditional movement control order (MCO) travel restrictions are lifted.

“I have a feeling I am going to miss them a lot this time,” says the 24-year-old who works as an animation production coordinator in Cyberjaya.

Still, she puts on a brave front, quips that absence makes the heart grow fonder and is looking forward to the day they can meet again.

In the meantime, she is focusing on prioritising her mental health and psychological well-being during this challenging time.

“I am doing okay physically. I can’t really say the same about my mental health though, I feel very anxious about the whole situation. I know it will be a while before I see my family and I have trouble falling asleep some nights because I stay awake thinking the worst,” she confides.

Sarah is surely not alone with such thoughts.

In this time of social distancing, quarantine and isolation, many have reported higher levels of psychological distress. This is compounded by the fact that many social activities are not advisable - or cancelled entirely - for the time being.

“I am doing okay physically. I can’t really say the same about my mental health though, I feel very anxious about the whole situation, says Sarah. Photo: IMAN SARAH AZMI“I am doing okay physically. I can’t really say the same about my mental health though, I feel very anxious about the whole situation, says Sarah. Photo: IMAN SARAH AZMI

Fatigued and anxious

When the MCO was first enforced in March, Malaysians came together to flatten the curve and fight the spread of the virus by following the guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOP) that were enforced.

The fear of contracting the virus was real and so, compliance was good overall. The country did well and we were proud of ourselves, quite deservedly, for how well we responded in these challenging times. Community spirit was high and Malaysians came together to help the overworked frontliners as well as vulnerable groups in the community who were suffered losses.

This time around however, as we face into the third wave of the virus and as some states are put under the conditional MCO once again, the mood is a little different.

Fear about the virus is still present but people are more anxious and just fatigued. Many have lost jobs, have had to take pay cuts and are struggling to make ends meet - and though conditions are a bit more relaxed with the CMCO this time around, there are still many who will not be able to work or see their loved ones during the next two weeks.

The hardest hit by the third wave of the pandemic in Malaysia and the new round of restrictions, says psychologist Assoc Prof Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, are those who will be financially affected by the CMCO.

"Those in the entertainment industry or the food industries, for example. As well as the many who live off their salaries. If they can't go to work, their level of frustration will be higher and their focus on their health and their mental well-being will not be a priority as compared to those who are financially more secure," says Dr Anasuya.

Cleaner Sumathi Raman, 60, lost her job in May.She had worked in several offices in Petaling Jaya but was let go because many of the companies she worked in had downsized or shut down. She managed to get some work cleaning homes but these were irregular. Her husband, Raja, is bedridden and has been unable to work for more than a year while her only son also recently loss his job as an office boy. He is now running food deliveries in the Klang Valley and can earn up to RM1,000 a month.

With the CMCO, Sumathi is worried whether they will have enough for rent and groceries this month.

"When the CMCO was announced earlier this week, some of my employers told me not to come and clean their homes for the next two weeks. They say they will call me when they need me again. I am worried if the CMCO goes on longer than 2 weeks and I have no work, how will I pay for rent?," shares Sumathi.

She has resorted to walking around her neighbourhood, knocking on doors, asking if homes need cleaning.

"Sometimes I get lucky but mostly, people are very careful and don't want to let me in even though they recognise me from being from the neighbourhood. They say they will call if they need help," she says adding that she has also started selling food in the evenings to bring in some money.

For daily wage earners like Sumathi, no work means no income which could have disastrous consequences on their well-being and can lead to depression.

"I'm don't mean psychological depression but actual financial depression," she explains. "We all want to stay healthy and that's very important. But for a big group of Malaysians, there is only so much they can afford to stay home. Not working is not an option. Working from home is not an option. These are Malaysians who live off their daily income, those who are truly in trouble and are worried that they won't be able to put food on the table or pay rent or pay for electricity.

"And that's why there was a lot of unhappiness about the CMCO this time around," she says.

Empathy needed

How do we get through this? We need to have a common goal.

"This time around, our goal isn't just to stop the spread of Covid or to not get Covid. Our common goal is to take care of the the health of our family, to look after the economic and financial stability of our family and also the mental health of our family. All three must come together but of course the emphasis will be different for different families, depending on how they are affected the most by the pandemic and the restrictions," explains Dr Anasuya who is the director of the Centre for Human Excellence & Development and programme director for the Master of Counselling at Taylor's University.

Malaysians also need to be more empathetic.

"Have a little more empathy and understanding. While all of us have been hit by the pandemic - whether socially, economically, psychologically - but many of the us are able to manage and pull through. We, especially the middle class, aren't worrying about staving. Two weeks may not seem like much to many but for some it is catastrophic.

"So when you see people out on the streets working or looking for work, it's because they need the work. Don't be quick to judge. Help if you can, otherwise, just have more empathy," she urges.

Sarah, who describes herself as "the kind of person who likes to meet people", has set her sights on making a list of goals.

“Of holiday goals, work goals and everything else I want to do when the pandemic is over. I can’t say much about the future as we don’t really know what will happen. But there is never a wrong time to call your loved ones and tell them you love them!” she says.

"I was slowly getting back into my normal routine: I went to work like usual, I went on dates or met up with people on the weekends whenever I was free. I was even thinking about going on a holiday somewhere in Malaysia. But now with the present conditional MCO, I have to put these plans on hold and be extra careful both for my own sake and also for everyone else. I hope that everyone else is also taking the same steps to take care of each other. Please wear a mask and stay home if you can afford to do so. And please reach out to someone if you do not feel safe at home, because not everyone is safer at home,” she says.

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