Covid-19: The Fight Against Mental Illness During These Trying Times
(TW: This article mentions suicide and domestic violence)
As time passes, it seems harder to envision our lives going back to the ways they were before this cluster of chaos. What was once thought to be a few weeks cooped up in our homes have turned into months, then years. For a lot of us, we are isolated with nothing but our thoughts and plain feelings of loneliness that have evolved into a void of emotions filled with fear, frustration, sadness, worry as well as anger. This disarray of emotions have demolished our minds, contorting our thoughts.
Obstacles During The Pandemic
An economic crisis has been caused by the pandemic, in which millions have come to face dire financial situations. Since the beginning of the movement control order, over 100,000 Malaysian employees have been laid off from their jobs. Living day by day off of their remaining wages, many are left jobless for months, unsure as to when they may ever find new work opportunities. Immense pressure from the loss of work has prompted the fluctuation of mental illnesses such as depression and cognitive thinking problems, with The Health Ministry receiving over 500,000 reported cases of depression by the end of 2020.
In the midst of the lockdown, many students have been finding the long-term isolation caused by online learning strenuous to tolerate. Students have felt the detrimental mental effects of being deprived of their physical education, which was replaced by the long hours spent in front of a mere digital screen. Multiple undergraduates have reported experiencing stress, anxiety, and fatigueness during the lockdown, for numerous reasons. Not only that, students have revealed that their family’s financial concerns have had a mental toll on them, expressing that they believe their education fees have been burdensome to their family finances during these times of hardship.
“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning. Social isolation, fear of contagion and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organisation.
With the absence of companionship from loved ones, family, and friends, feelings of social isolation have been on the rise. Whilst left alone in our heads, getting caught up in our own emotions is sometimes inevitable. As our minds deluge in thoughts, we may reach an extent to which negative conceptions begin to cultivate. According to psychologists, studies have proven that experiencing persistent loneliness has the capability of leading to higher risks of psychological disorders and mental health issues, leaving odious long-term effects.
“Loneliness is a phenomenon that is a universal lived experience that is significant to health and quality of life”- Paula M. Karnick
The Disproportionate Effects of Lockdown on Women
Unfortunately, in our society it is not uncommon for women to suffer from heinous acts of violence. As time spent under lockdown continues to prolong, domestic violence cases have begun to grievously fluctuate. Obligated to remain in their households with their perpetrators, many victims are left with no routes to escape through. With a total of 2,287 local domestic violence cases and 1,263 sexual abuse cases solely in 2020, it was found that majority of the vicious acts inflicted against these women were by spouses or intimate partners.
Chandra, a domestic violence survivor, had reached out for help from local police on two separate occasions, and yet during both times she was told that they could only respond to her domestic violence reports after the Movement Control Order was lifted. This is just one of many instances in which domestic violence reports have been neglected. The lack of adequate support for domestic violence victims have left substantial consequences on the mental health of these women. More often than not, increasing the risk of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and PTSD -post traumatic stress disorder, amongst these victims.
The lives of single mothers have also been hindered by the pandemic. Being amongst the most affected by the lockdown, aspects such as job loss and child care burdens are felt most sharply by single mothers who have to withstand the misery of the lockdown without the support of another parent.
“They were already stretched before, and now it’s just so much more psychologically and physically and financially to contend with,” says Dr. Marika Linhom , founder of Empowering Solo Moms
With the lockdown showing no mercy to single mothers, their mental health continues to be left at stake, as they submerge in the pressure of holding the responsibility to care and earn funds for their families with no assistance. Additionally, studies have shown that the pandemic has impacted 96% of single parents’ mental health, with over 80% of that amount being single mothers.
Are Malaysians Taking The Rise In Suicide Cases Seriously?
That being said, the pandemic is a psychological time-bomb. In 2020 alone, there were reports of 266 cases nationwide, between the time-frame of March 18th and October 30th, being the equivalent to nearly 30 suicides a month, or one suicide a day. While time spent in MCO continues to prolong, suicide cases rise amid the pandemic, as extended uncertainties have caused woeful mental distress on many individuals. The burden of stress has provoked a series of issues, such as psychological, emotional, health and income complications as a result of loneliness, financial constraints, movement restrictions, helplessness and vulnerability.
The Malaysian society holds a strong stigma against mental health, specifically the topic of suicide. This stigma is so potent in our country, rules have been passed criminalising suicide attempts. According to the Laws of Malaysia: Act 574, under the Penal Code Section 309, attempted suicide is deemed an illegal act, in which consequences include imprisonment for up to a year, being fined, or both. Suicide is regarded as an extremely sensitive topic, amongst Malaysians, with many considering it a taboo- prohibited or restricted by social customs. These unhealthy taboos and misconceptions of suicide conceal the sad truth, that in reality, suicide is a critical public health problem. In order to normalise the discussion of mental health and suicide among the public, it is mandatory for stigmas to be abolished as it prevents people who need guidance from seeking help.
However, the government’s decision to study a proposal to decriminalise attempted suicides in Malaysia, is a step forward towards eradicating the law and fighting discrimination against suicide and mental health.
“A suicidal person is in so much pain that they can see no other option of finding relief except through death. So, the thought of committing suicide is usually an attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Despite their desire to stop the pain, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to suicide, but they can’t see one,” Lum Khay Xian, clinical psychologist
The Next Steps Forward
Staying connected is one of the most crucial steps we can do to curb the feelings of isolation we feel. There is no shame in reaching out to family and friends, during difficult times in which we need their care, compassion and comfort the most. Whether it’s through a phone call or having a casual conversation with members of your household, the companionship of the people we love the most is essential during the lockdown.
Secondly, being watchful of others around you. You know what signs to see in yourself when things feel like they’re starting to go out of place. But, those same things you’d watch for in yourself are what you should look out for in others as well. Ask yourself: Are they not getting enough sleep? Are they not taking care of themselves? Are they not taking care of their basic needs? These questions allow us to remain open to lines of communication and enable us to look out for one another.
Last but not least, normalise having open and honest conversations. It is crucial for communication barriers to be broken down, especially when you are living with someone during this state of quarantine. Nonetheless, in certain situations, individuals may have no one available to translate these negative thoughts to. Therefore, hotlines such as Befrienders are accessible at 03–79568144 or 03–79568145.
We may never know when this ceaseless cycle will come to an end but, in order to keep our mental health afloat we must continue to fight against the negative conceptions we confine our thoughts to, as amidst these trying times, we are most vulnerable to our minds.
Poor Malaysian households headed by widows, single mums struggle the most amid Covid-19 pandemic
KUALA LUMPUR - When Malaysia went into a partial lockdown in March because of a sudden spike of coronavirus cases…
[Written by Stefanie Khor]