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Mental state of the nation and Malaysians

Mental state of the nation and Malaysians

The last few years have been particularly demanding for Malaysians.

First with the Covid-19 pandemic, then the rollercoaster ride of the 15th General Election and its aftermath, along with nationwide floods and the landslide in Batang Kali, Pahang, which claimed 31 lives.

Undoubtedly, we stand as one in feeling for the victims of the landslide tragedy.

It is hoped that adequate psychological intervention, including follow-up support, are given to the survivors.

The disaster also highlights the importance of mental health intervention as a crucial component of disaster response.

Reflecting on the vicissitudes that we collectively went through in the past year (2022), the time is right now to start healing the wounds of our collective psyche.

This is especially pertinent with Malaysians struggling with high food prices and challenging household-related financial burdens.

Effect on economics

Mental health related to economic hardship requires great interventions for societal well-being, resilience and self-confidence, to enable us to rise as a nation.

The fact that psychological distress has a direct impact on development is usually overlooked by policymakers.

Mental ill health increases the likelihood of becoming or remaining poor.

Conversely, poverty also increases people’s risk of developing mental health problems.

Therefore, mental health should play a crucial role in the development agenda.

While Covid-19-related mental health issues may no longer be seen as debilitating, we need to sustain our efforts in bringing together all stakeholders to pursue the mental health agenda in 2023 and beyond.

There is no need to wait for another disaster to strike before mental health becomes a buzzword again.

In Malaysia, mental health conditions in the workplace cost our economy RM14.46 billion in 2018.

However, our mental health spending hovers only around 1% of the health budget with minimal increase in recent years.

Hopefully, we will see greater allocation for mental health expenditure in the upcoming revised Budget 2023.

Helping to take care of employees’ mental health will also help organisations boost productivity and instil worker loyalty. — Filepic

Removing stigma and judgement

Mental health planners and policymakers need to develop, through public awareness and community engagement, care delivery systems that are sensitive to social, economic and cultural contexts in our efforts to scale up services.

There are too few professionals to support the vast mental health needs of the population, which means we need to innovate around how to deliver care.

One way is through digital platforms that provide an alternative method of mental healthcare delivery, while also addressing long-standing obstacles in mental health delivery.

Such obstacles include transportation barriers, stigma associated with visiting mental health clinics, clinician shortages and long waiting periods.

Many people with a mental illness, together with their families and carers, continue to experience stigma and discrimination.

Stigma not only affects a person’s physical and mental health, but also their educational opportunities, earnings and job prospects.

Therefore, well thought-out anti-stigma campaigns can be powerful tools to confront prejudice and discrimination.

Workplace mental health should not only include appropriate mental health support and access to services.

It is also time to strengthen policies to enable organisations to implement non-judgmental and inclusive practices in the workplace.

Such investments will boost productivity and instil worker loyalty.

Mental health and well-being is much more than just mental illness.

Therefore, it must not be viewed only from the medical perspective.

This may mean employing robust, dynamic and contemporary approaches, particularly in mental health leadership.

Boosting unity

Our new Prime Minister may also want to consider creating a focal point in his administration to assist in the healing and rehabilitative process of nation-building.

The attention should be on raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma associated with mental illness, and promoting help-seeking behaviours, while simultaneously promoting societal emotional well-being practices.

Special attention should be paid to nation-building through preventing attempts to sow divisions and hatred.

Societal interventions need to counter the misuse of social media.

To promote cohesion and love for country is the call of the day.

Strategies to engage youth, particularly the rural and disadvantaged segments of this group, must focus on self-improvement leading to their value-added participation in national efforts to bring collective good to all Malaysians.

Mental state of the nation and MalaysiansThis cafe in Almaty, Kazakhstan, solely employs patients from local psychiatric institutions in an initiative to fight the stigma that surrounds people with disabilities and improve their access to the labour market. — AFP filepic

Decreasing stress

For most of us, the past few years have been full of adjustments.

While we look forward to a brighter 2023, New Year resolutions can be stressful to stick to.

They can create an internal struggle between what we think we should do and what we really want to do.

It is better to take a balanced approach to give space to think about what we want to change in order to feel better, and thereby stop creating unrealistic goals that make us feel worse.

The usual goals such as finding the right work-life balance, exercising, or dropping bad habits such as smoking or excessive drinking, are undoubtedly important.

However, in terms of reducing stress, it is crucial to identify the facets of our work, home or social lives that cause stress in the first place.

We can start by reflecting on our first thoughts after we wake up.

Then replace stressed or negative thoughts with positive affirmations.

Focusing on self-compassion and willingness to practice forgiveness can make a big difference in how we start our day.

Obsession with political news creates a steady stream of negative input into our senses.

Undoubtedly, we all want to remain aware of what’s going on in our country and the world, but if the news feed becomes overwhelming, it is better to turn away or reduce the reading/watching to a bare minimum.

Instead, we should focus on issues within our sphere of influence or areas of interest.

For example, we can keep our elected representatives on their toes by communicating with them on a specific issue that concerns us, rather than being distracted by their lifestyle or social media posts.

New resolutions

Many of us may want to spend time pursuing intellectual goals, like reading or learning a new language in the new year.

Others may want to find a way to donate or give back to an important cause.

Getting active is one of the simplest ways to boost our mental health.

However, we do not have to reach a certain weight or physique to make us feel like we achieved something.

Simply being more active brings mental health benefits.

Due to Covid-19, we have all gone through the misery of isolation and physical-distancing, and it has had a negative impact on our mental health.

Perhaps 2023 should be the year to reconnect with family and friends, and indeed, make new connections.

Staying connected is, after all, the very essence of good mental health.

If we have a lot on our plate and we can no longer handle the stress, we must not hesitate to get empathy, care and support from a mental health professional.

We should not fall into the trap of pushing ourselves too hard or too fast to fulfil the targets in our New Year resolutions.

Being unrealistic about our targets is setting ourselves up for failure even before we get started.

Even if we stumble, we should not be overly worried, because that is part of the process too.

We learn infinitely more from our failures than we do from our successes.

Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is a consultant psychiatrist, the Malaysian Mental Health Association president and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Taylor’s University. For more information, email [email protected] 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.



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