PETALING JAYA: As the Covid-19 pandemic takes a toll on people’s mental well-being, related healthcare professionals are seeing a growing demand for their help in dealing with issues such as stress, depression, anxiety and relationships.
With the Health Ministry reporting that needs for mental health support during the first four months of this year have surpassed what was required for the whole of 2020, experts said the state of mental health in this country was indeed concerning.
Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Hazli Zakaria, who is also Malaysia Psychiatrist Association president, said mental healthcare services in the private sector grew by an estimated 30% to 50% during the movement control order.
“Despite the MCO, we still have to open the clinic because our slots are full, and this is in the private setting.
“I’m pretty sure in the public sector, too, the number of people seeking mental health help is increasing, ” he said.
The most common issues involved anxiety disorder and depression, said Dr Hazli, adding that changes brought about by the pandemic such as job loss, social distancing and working from home contributed to the heightened levels of stress.
“Many clients are from the industries that were the hardest hit by the pandemic such as tourism, hospitality and aviation, ” he noted.
Now, as Malaysia is recording more deaths due to Covid-19, he said those mourning the loss of loved ones would need more mental health support as their grieving process was compounded by new norms like the inability to be with them for their final moments or even attend their funeral.
With the country having only a little over 400 registered psychiatrists for its 32 million population, Dr Hazli said there was also a need to give more support to these physicians as well as frontliners and counsellors who provide psychological support to people.
Licensed counsellor Jamaida Jamaludin said there was a high demand for teletheraphy or virtual counselling services during the pandemic, adding that she received between seven and 10 clients daily via WhatsApp.
Jamaida, who works full-time as a counsellor for a government agency, started volunteering her services from March 2020 after seeing a sharp rise in the number of people needing mental health help.
“The most common issue I encounter is about marriage; if I receive 10 cases in a day, six of them would be about marriage while the others about mental health issues.
“Most issues regarding marriage have been present in the relationship for a long time, but during this MCO especially, these issues are exploding like a bomb, ” she said.
For her married clients, there were many issues about miscommunication, infidelity, long-distance relationships, finances, as well as mental and physical abuse.
Jamaida noted the high number of people suffering from poor mental well-being during the MCO.
“In fact, I received a phone call from a suicidal 14-year-old, showing people of all ages are affected, ” she said.
She added that last year, with classes being moved to online learning, she also received many calls from university and school students as well as parents who were not coping well mentally with the changes.
“Another issue that I commonly receive is related to working from home, I can see that Malaysians are still struggling to get used to it. For these clients, I try to help by preparing a suitable schedule for them.
“All in all, I can see that people’s stress level has been sky-high during the MCO, ” she said, adding that mass media such as television should do more to promote the existence of virtual counselling services during this period.Jamaida said she had many clients who reached her for help after suffering silently for many years, not knowing where to look for free online counselling.
For therapist Lisa Sum, of non-profit organisation Agape Counselling Centre Malaysia, in 2020 and 2021 so far, most of its clients have sought help for emotional issues involving families, relationships and health.
The second most common was about marital problems followed by psychological issues, said Sum, adding that they also received more calls during the MCO, with clients of all ages, from children to adults.
Sum, who does expressive therapy, said that to improve the mental well-being of Malaysians amid the crushing pandemic, a holistic approach was needed whereby people need to nurture their spiritual, mental and physical health.
“Outlets that help people to relieve stress such as gyms and natural attractions like beaches, mountains, nature parks and resorts are all off-limits to visitors currently, so people do not have an avenue to decompress during the lockdown.
“If possible, places like these that help improve the people’s mental health should be opened under strict standard operating procedure.
“There is so much fear and grief gripping the nation due to the deaths and loss of freedom. Grief has stayed and we need an outlet to express ourselves.
“We have been focusing on pandemic management but we also need to promote mental health well-being, ” said Sum, adding that preventive measures to avoid more mental health breakdowns were necessary.
She said that oftentimes, clients come to them for help when it was too late for preventive measures and that they already had no choice but to be put on medication.
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