IT goes without saying that the exponential increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases is having a negative effect on the rakyat. As of yesterday, the number of accumulated cases stood at 30,090 with 246 deaths in total.
The negative effect will manifest itself in various ways depending on the individual circumstances one is currently experiencing. But there are two variables that everyone will have to contend with: physical health and mental health.
While physical health issues are being addressed reasonably well by the authorities, including the Health Ministry and other bodies, the question of mental health also needs attention.
Physical health issues are a concern for those already affected or for the carriers of the virus but mental health issues affect every single person. Are we in a position to cope with the scope and scale of this important aspect of our overall health?
According to news reports, two out of five Malaysians, or 44% – almost half – of the population, have had their mental health affected by the pandemic.
Of that percentage, 7% reported feeling down all the time while 37% felt down some of the time. They need urgent help to de-stress. For many, there is no relief, only grief.
While a large segment of the population will be spared being infected, nobody will be spared the stress arising from this pandemic. Already saddled with the problems of daily living, the people need help to cope with the new normal.
While most of us can cope, there are literally thousands of people – of all ages and of all persuasions – who are finding it increasingly difficult to do so. As a caring nation, we must be ready, willing and able to lend a helping hand in a timely fashion.
For that we need sufficient resources, enough manpower and comprehensive policies that the government, NGOs and individuals can provide. Legislators must reclassify mental healthcare as an essential service with the attendant features and necessary investments.
The government must not only beef up resources to tackle the crisis in general but it must also provide better resources for mental healthcare specifically to mitigate human misery and economic losses.
Providing more counsellors and psychologists to serve our community is most essential. It should invest more in mental health – which is, after all, this year’s theme for World Health Day that falls annually on April 7: “Invest in Mental Health”.
All NGOs involved must prioritise education and the creation of awareness of the importance of mental health. The public must know that if they have any mental health issues, relief is only a phone call away.
While we have some NGOs offering mental health services, such as the Befrienders who are doing a good job, do we know how they too are faring?
Are public donations towards the voluntary organisation drying up in these challenging times?
The government, the rakyat, businesses and other organisations must come forward to lend a helping hand.
If more relief is not forthcoming soon, it may be too late to save some people who are desperate and without hope. We have the means to help them but do we also have the inclination to do so?
Can leaders put politics aside and display their compassionate nature? Can the private sector do more in this hour of need? Don’t let this public health crisis morph into a mental health crisis. The first affects some people, the latter affects everybody.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE , Chairman, Alliance For a Safe Community
Note: Those in need of help can contact the Befrienders’ 24-hour hotline at 03-7627 2929; for a full list of nationwide numbers, go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia.
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