By Ida Nadirah Ibrahim
THESE days, in our fast-paced, modern world, it is no longer unusual for people to have a myriad of health problems. The Covid-19 outbreak has only escalated socio-economic problems, often with serious outcomes.
Lockdown measures enforced by governments worldwide to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has not only affected the livelihoods of people but also contributed to their levels of anxiety, raising concerns of mental health issues. The fear of being in isolation, the stress that comes with losing one’s job, and the sense of helplessness in losing loved ones are all too real these days.
Based on a recent survey published by global market research company Ipsos Malaysia, 44 per cent out of its 500 Malaysian respondents say that staying at home for long hours has impacted their mental wellness. More than half (56 per cent) of the respondents say they have been less active physically since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.
In the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey published by the Health Ministry in May this year, mental health is referred to as the ‘hidden pandemic’, with 424,000 children in the country found to have mental health problems and 2.3 per cent of adults facing depression.
Due to such growing concerns, the Selangor government has stepped up on efforts to address mental health issues and has been committed in this area since it initiated several programmes that focus on target groups last year.
In conjunction with the World Mental Health Day 2020 on October 10, state executive councillor for public health Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud shed some light on the emphasis given by the state administration in creating more public awareness on mental health.
“The (recent) statistics on mental health is worrying. One of the factors leading to this is the influence of social media.
“The state government in collaboration with mental health-related NGOs, the Education Department, and several other agencies have initiated several preventive activities, especially for the most vulnerable group, the teenagers,” she told Selangor Journal recently.
Following the two-month movement control order (MCO) period, the Selangor administration is doubling down on its ‘Awak OK 2.0’ campaign, where in-depth discussions on one’s mental wellbeing are carried out.
Dr Siti Mariah said eight series of topics will be aired in the months of November and December to the public.
“We also have the ‘Awak OK’ support group, where we create support groups or circle time that enables participants to sign-up to receive consultation, counselling, and face-to-face meet-ups with mental health experts.
“The participants, who are mainly those battling mental health problems, will be counselled via six sessions until they find a solution to the problems they face,” she said.
The titles of the sessions include Journey to Recovery, Self Care Not Selfish Thriving in the Journey of Pain, and Message Of Hope – Sinar Harapan.
During the MCO, Dr Siti Mariah said the ‘Awak OK’ Mental Health Interactive Programme was launched on Facebook, and held over 22 episodes. Each session involved the participation of psychologists, psychiatrists, and NGOs.
She said in the previous year, some of the programmes held include empowerment programmes by registered counsellors in Selangor, programmes to counsel teachers, periodic training sessions for peer-counsellors in schools, and training and awareness programmes on mental health for the frontline workers battling the virus.
For the 2021 Selangor Budget, Dr Siti Mariah said the state government will give focus to public health, which includes the effects of Covid-19, dengue, tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases, as well as mental health.
“The allocation for public health for next year will focus on the community,” she said.
Dr Siti Mariah added that the community must be educated and take heed of the importance of mental health.
“All direct or indirect stakeholders, whether it is the administration, NGOs, or private sectors, must play their role in identifying the issues early on and carry out preventive measures as well as treatment.”
This article first appeared in the Selangor Journal monthly October edition, published on October 12, 2020.