Author: Mariam Zamri
Editor: Ziera Adurah
The prevalence of depression among youths and adults in Malaysia is surfacing at an alarming rate and it seems like there are not any solutions to it. Recently, Twitter user @masfaizhakim has brought upon this issue in his tweet, which received 29K Retweets and 39K Likes from users on the platform, by expressing pity towards his friend. He highlighted that his friend had disappeared for about a week, and apparently had been hospitalized due to Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). He also added that his friend had just lost his job, lost all sense of direction in life and had been under pressure from his family and girlfriend. The Twitter user urged everyone to think before we speak, as words do hurt more than action, especially during these trying times.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), also referred to as clinical depression, is a significant medical condition that can affect many areas of our life. It is a severe mental illness as it impacts mood and behavior as well as various physical functions, such as appetite, sleep and even brushing your teeth. Though most of the time, ignorant people tend to claim that these “depressed” individuals are just lazy.
Wake up Malaysians! Nearly half a million people in this country are found to be experiencing symptoms of stress or depression, according to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS). Kuala Lumpur Befrienders patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, said the NHSM 2019 study also found that 424,000 children had mental health problems. In the wake of the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, there has been a significant effect on the mental health status of the general population around the world, and Malaysia is no exception. The imposition of Movement Control Order (MCO) has also caused emotional distress to many, following the change in the working environment, loss of income and jobs, and fears for safety.
As we all know, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these issues have emphasized an even more dire scenario. If loneliness and isolation are already noted risk factors for depression, then the lockdowns preventing family and caregivers from interacting with their loved ones in long-term care served to hasten the decline. Speaking from my experience, I have so many friends who have confided in me about their depressive episodes, but as a friend, the only thing I could do was to hear and console them. These little things may sound trivial, but they matter. One person may look fine and happy on the outside, but behind closed doors, we will never know.
Unfortunately, there is still a lack of understanding of the illness especially in terms of common mental disorders, the causes and possible consequences as well as recognizing the early signs of major mental problems like depression. There is also a strong social stigma associated with mental illness, from a cultural standpoint shaped by superstitious beliefs and misconceptions. Most of them will assume that the person who is suffering from depression never prays and is weak in faith. This negative perception often leads patients with mental illness to suffer in silence, often ostracised by society with little hope of acceptance let alone recovery.
Therefore, what can we do, as a person and as a society, to help those who are in need of major assistance?
Ways to cope
Depression is a mental illness and illnesses are treatable, hence those who are suffering from depression need constant support and guidance. There are several counselling, mental health services and hotlines in Malaysia. Firstly, the Befrienders offers emotional support 24/7 to people who are distressed, distraught, lonely, or troubled with suicidal thoughts. HELP University’s Centre for Psychological and Counselling Services (CPCS) provides psychotherapy and psychological assessments. Aside from that, the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) is well-versed in psychiatric rehabilitation programmes and caregiver support services.
In addition, parents must play an important role in providing a loving and encouraging environment for children to grow up feeling safe to express their feelings and talk about their mental health openly. It will help them in building up mental resilience and gives encouragement to face the problems and overcome their causes and stress.
Furthermore, as a society, we should refrain from being narrow-minded by spewing nonsense such as “low iman is the cause of depression” without thinking about what one may feel. We must also be further educated regarding this issue, be it listening to them, offering help with everyday tasks, being patient with them and even learning the different forms of depression. It will make their life so much easier and bearable. Moreover, let us help each other out during times of social distancing by staying connected with them through phone calls and video chats.
We are living in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic where a lot of other uncertainties are going on in the world right now. It should be understood that a lot of people are not in their best state of mind. Mental health is not to be taken lightly and though it is still a taboo subject in some Asian communities, it is reassuring to see more awareness surrounding this topic. Open up and reach out as help is everywhere around us.