Hidden mental toll of the pandemic

The pandemic has led to various mental health issues. — Filepic

INCREASED feelings of isolation amid the Covid-19 pandemic may be causing many people to suffer from mental health problems including feeling suicidal, said Befrienders Penang.

Its vice-chairman Saras Pillay said restrictions under the movement control order including having to work or study from home have caused loneliness.

Saras says the economic downturn can trigger hopelessness.Saras says the economic downturn can trigger hopelessness.

“Social isolation and lack of interaction with others can lead to anxiety and depression.

“It is important to be able to see the warning signs when someone is contemplating suicide.

“Sometimes the signs are subtle and the situation depends heavily on the alertness of those closest to the victim, ” she said.

She said the signs included sudden changes in behaviour, lack of motivation, being non-communicative, insomnia, extreme sadness, being slow to function or respond and being unable to focus.

Saras said the economic downturn, which led to many people losing their jobs, was another cause that could trigger a sense of hopelessness.

“Many are struck with panic attacks and uncertainties when they lose their jobs and face sudden financial difficulties.

“Not everyone can cope with it, ” she said.

She said that following the various stages of the movement control order implemented since March, volunteers at Befrienders Penang had been trying their best to provide emotional support to those in need.

Its chairman Damien Lee said the organisation has 70 volunteers who take turns every day to answer phone calls which come in regularly.

“Under the current conditional MCO, we halved the manpower at the call centre but both phone lines are open.

“From March to October this year, we received 2,995 calls from the public seeking counselling.

“Within the same period last year, we received 3,873 calls.

“The 23% drop in the number of calls this year was due to the centre being closed during the initial MCO from mid-March to April.

“This was when the team could receive calls only via Skype.

Lee says Befrienders has 70  volunteers to answer calls.Lee says Befrienders has 70 volunteers to answer calls.

“We received only five calls during the six weeks of closure.

“However, during the later months, the number of calls have come consistently, ” he said.

Reports quoting police records state that 266 individuals across the nation committed suicide during the country’s movement restrictions from March 18 to Oct 30.

The most recent suicide case in Penang was recorded on Saturday when a 60-year-old man fell from a 14-storey block in Tanjong Tokong.

George Town OCPD Asst Comm Soffian Santong said the man’s wife last saw him at 5.40am, about an hour before he fell.

“The man had been diagnosed with colon cancer, ” said ACP Soffian.

Penang Fire and Rescue Department’s fire operations and safety officer Nafis Ariff Abdullah said that between Oct 30 and Saturday alone, the department responded to four attempted suicides.

Those in need of someone to talk to can call Befrienders at 04-281 5161/1108 in Penang, 03-7956 8145 (Klang Valley),

05-547 7933/7955 in Ipoh or 08- 825 5788,016-803 6945 in Kota Kinabalu, or email sam@befrienders.org.my.

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