Malaysia detected its first case of coronavirus on 25 January 2020
A couple of months after that the country went into a lockdown that lasted for over 80 days. It impacted not just the economic stability of the millions, the lockdown also left people mentally broken.
Soon after, a second and third movement control order (MCO) followed the first one as Malaysia — after a brief period of low cases being reported — failed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the government has offered stimulus assistance, it hasn't been enough for people reeling under the pandemic-induced curbs and daily changing guidelines and SOPs being announced.
The country has been recording more COVID-19 cases than ever, with numbers of the daily new cases now crossing the 6,000-mark this month. For the last four days, Malaysia has recorded over 6,000 cases daily.
As of this report, COVID-19 has killed a total of 2,199 people in Malaysia.
And more than a year of living with the virus, the country is now back under another lockdown to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on all levels of society, especially those with pre-existing mental health conditions and mental illnesses.
The same was acknowledged by the Ministry of Health (MOH) recently.
Over the week, MOH said that 2020 and 2021 were very challenging years and there was no denying that the people were affected psychologically and emotionally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to statistics, a total of 145,173 distress calls were received by government agencies from 25 March 2020 to 20 May 2021. Of which, 85.5% of the calls were related to mental health issues that required emotional support and counselling such as acute stress, anxiety, depression, abuse, and suicidal behaviour.
Job loss and not having a source of income were among a couple of the causes identified by MOH for Malaysians suffering these severe psychological and emotional effects.
The pandemic and more than a year of living under some form of lockdown have also impacted them in other ways such as family conflict, interpersonal relationship problems, and stigma.
Lack of access to aid services has also contributed towards exacerbating the problem.
Among other mental health-related cases, a record number of suicide attempts also received treatment at MOH hospitals across the country
A total of 1,080 people were reported to have attempted suicide last year alone.
Meanwhile, between 19 March to 30 October, a total of 266 people committed suicide. Of which, 25% of the suicides were brought on by pressures related to debt, followed by family problems, and marital issues.
According to a February 2021 report in South China Morning Post, Malaysia's ratio of mental health professionals to the population is well below the recommended World Health Organization (WHO) ratio.
What has certainly not helped is also the country's anachronistic response to suicide given Malaysian law criminalises suicide attempts under Section 309 of the Penal Code.
Since last year, a number of reported incidents show that people who attempted to take their lives after having lost their job or unable to cope with the overwhelming stress were sent to jail.
"Punishing those who are already in distress as a method to curb this issue only serves to worsen the crisis as it pushes individuals to choose more irreversible means of harming themselves to ensure that their attempt is successful to avoid prosecution should they survive," noted this SAYS contributor.
On that front, MOH said that it recognises that prolonged mental health plight aggravates depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies
Realising that there will be extended mental health problems, MOH will place 200 psychological officers via contract service to assist with mental health patients in all districts and government health clinics.
The ministry added that it will continue to implement several initiatives to address these growing mental problems, including intensifying the advocacy of the 'Let's Talk Minda Sihat' campaign.
MOH will take a number of other steps in the next five years such as increase mental health services, protection against violence and substance abuse including alcohol through digital and latest technology with other agencies and NGOs via virtual consultation and teleconsultation.
There's also a plan to set up a National Suicide and Fatal Injuries Registry.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
If you or anyone you know lonely, distressed, or having negative thoughts, please call these Malaysian hotlines:
1. BEFRIENDERS KL
Email: [email protected]
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2. TALIAN KASIH
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook
For a more thorough directory of resources, head over to the Malaysian Mental Health Association's website.