Judging from the calls received by helplines in the country during the past year, there has been a significant increase in cases of anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Malaysians were also shocked at the sudden recent spike in the number of suicide cases.
We can speculate that the sudden psychological decompensation could have been related to loss of income, loneliness and change of lifestyle due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Exacerbation of pre-existing mental health conditions could have also resulted in this.
This scenario is likely to linger with us for some time as we continue to deal with the pandemic, and even as we recover from its aftermath in the hopefully near future.
The present circumstances have introduced an unexpected new level of uncertainty in our lives.
This is due to worries over exposure to Covid-19 and access to medical care, as well as concerns about job security and loss of income.
We have needed to adjust and readjust our behaviour continually in response to the changing risks.
It is common to find uncertainty upsetting, confusing and frustrating, thus putting a strain on our mental health and well-being.
Unlike other countries in our region, Malaysia has never really faced a serious natural or manmade disaster.
Therefore, dealing with the current pandemic, which by definition runs an uncertain course, becomes all the more challenging for us Malaysians.
This pandemic is also a great equaliser.
The rich and the poor, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, all can relate to the uncertainty it has engendered.
We all like things to be certain and predictable for the most part, but the current situation has left us all with only a hope that things will eventually fall back into some form of normalcy.
This loss of control due to uncertainty causes us stress, although it is important to note that uncertainty does not mean only bad things will happen.
Understanding how we should respond to uncertainty may help us alleviate some of the mental strain of the pandemic.
What we can do is to recognise what is certain in our lives in the present and to take charge of what we can control.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves: “What is in my control?”
We can control our daily routine, e.g. the time we eat, exercise, sleep, work and study.
We can decide how we connect with people and who we connect with.
This is possible thanks to digital platforms available now.
Quarantine or sequestering at home would have been a truly isolating experience even a decade ago when we did not have such advancements.
While our lives revolve around such technological advancements, we tend to forget that some senior citizens have become more isolated than usual or feel disempowered due to their inability to master digital technology.
The term “social distancing”, used during the early part of the pandemic and still employed even now, is somewhat of a misnomer.
“Physical distancing”, which was recommended to replace it, is certainly a much better and more accurate term.
Surely “social distancing” – as we currently understand the term – should not mean being socially isolated.
If there is one lesson that the pandemic has taught us, it is the power of human connections.
Connectedness alleviates depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies, among others.
Therefore, it makes sense to invest in human connections and in relationships that matter.
A simple, but sincere, call out of “Are you ok?” to our friends and neighbours will go a long way.
We need to not just tolerate the uncertainty of the pandemic, but also try to embrace it.
It may make the way we look at life change for the better.
We may now realise that we can make do with so much less.
We may now avoid wastage and become less materialistic.
And with the world experiencing the same restrictions and uncertainties due to the pandemic, this may indeed become a global phenomenon.
The consequences of uncertainty should also make us think retrospectively.
What strategies have worked best for us in the past when we faced problems in our lives?
We need to then work out how best we can use these approaches now under the current circumstances.
We also see the universal emphasis on the value of caring for others. The best example of this is when we see Malaysians coming together to help the helpless in this economic crisis.
Regardless of the firm divisions ingrained in our society, we are all suffering from the uncertainties of this situation, although some, like the urban poor, are suffering to the point of despair.
It must not be overlooked that too much uncertainty can disable and paralyse us.
However, creating firm daily routines while staying connected to family and friends, can build resi-lience, which will help manage uncertainty.
Having some uncertainty in our lives can also be a healthy thing as it allows us to grow and develop out of our comfort zones.
We need to normalise uncertainty by accepting it.
This does not mean giving up.
It only means grounding ourselves in the present and actively experiencing life with the sole purpose of moving forward.
This allows us to build psychological flexibility and recognise factors that are outside our immediate control.
It also makes us understand that the ultimate key to life is the focus on gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.
Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is a consultant psychiatrist, Green Ribbon Group policy advisor and Malaysian Mental Health Association president. For more information, email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.