Updated: Oct 14
By: Lim Su Lin, Research and Advocacy officer, SOLS Health
The 10th of October is known the world over as World Mental Health Day – the result of a global advocacy and awareness program started by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992. It represents a day to highlight issues and raise mental health awareness, towards the goal of ensuring that people dealing with problems concerning mental health can live better lives with dignity.
This year, the chosen theme for World Mental Health Day is “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment- Greater Access.” This could not have been more apt, against the harsh and ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak on the economic and financial, as well as collective psychosocial health of communities.
Malaysia is no exception to this toll. To give an idea of the extent of damage, in the span of just 5 months, between March 25 and the end of August this year, over 10 thousand calls were made to the Health Ministry’s psychosocial support hotline. According to news reports, about 50 percent of these calls were related to feelings of stress, anxiety and despair brought about by conditions of the pandemic.
In the same breath, the Health Ministry recorded a total of 465 attempted suicides between January and June this year. Police reports revealed that there were 78 completed suicides nationwide, from when the lockdown began until June 9.
These figures show us that, amid the crisis, even the most resilient individuals are not immune to experiencing a deterioration in their mental health, let alone those already battling mental health issues. Individuals who have never experienced mental health issues before are now struggling with anxiety and depression from the crisis, and individuals with previous mental health conditions may have fewer supports and greater stressors than before.
The truth is, all of us are under some form of psychological strain, whether due to social isolation, economic hardship, having to adjust to sudden changes, facing uncertainties in employment, education and (for some) struggling just to obtain daily provisions or food supplies. And as the world grapples with the ongoing health emergency, the need for psychosocial support and greater mental health interventions has never been more urgent.
Our government has taken several measures to address this need, yet public mental health advocacy equally plays a crucial role in ensuring that help is both timely, accessible and effective. To that end, a feature article (click me) written by a SOLS Health research intern describes the roles of different lay groups involved in advocacy, and how each one operates in promoting positive mental health outcomes.
In her article, the writer makes the point that advocacy is most powerful and effective when channeled through “lived experiences”. Aligning with the WMHD theme of “Mental Health for All”, SOLS Health will be launching a story sharing campaign on social media, to help raise awareness and promote better understanding of mental health, while offering hope to those facing challenges during these difficult times. Further details on how to submit your story may be found here (click me). Through sharing these narratives, we hope to harness the power of storytelling to build strengths, connection and a better future.
As the government continues to pour efforts into improving treatment facilities and formal mental health services to reduce the psychological impacts of COVID-19, we can do our part, by actively using our voice and energy to challenge mental health stigma and cultivate emotional and social support within our respective families, peers and communities.
If anything, the events of 2020 have reminded us to pause and slow down, and to know that caring emotionally for ourselves and others matters a great deal.
Times may appear bleak, but there is a brighter future in store, as long as we continue to persevere and support one another, showing up for the ones we love, while also caring for our own mental health and the well-being of others.