By Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan, Puteri Nor Ariane Yasmin

DURING the Movement Control Order (MCO) in April, we wrote that the period brought lessons and silver linings for the mental health community and beyond.

Today, we are facing the third wave of Covid-19. Malaysia had the highest number of cases last week, with clusters in Sabah and Kedah, and one-off cases in shopping malls, restaurants, schools and universities.

A re-examination of the second wave of Covid-19 during the MCO would give us an indication of what lies ahead. We know that uncertainties and major changes to our lives are having a considerable impact on our mental health — both for those with mental health issues and for those without.

Therefore, we can expect to see a rise in anxiety and stigmatisation of the coronavirus, as well as among frontliners and patients. With the loan moratorium ending, the impact of the third wave could be compounded by financial woes and unemployment.

Makcik Kiah, for instance, would be worried how to make ends meet while protecting her family if she were to live in Sabah or Kedah. If she lives elsewhere in Malaysia, she would be worried about another MCO looming if cases continue to spike.

The situation today is a dire warning for us not to be complacent despite our efficient management of the pandemic in the last six months. The onus is on us to check on one another and hold each other accountable, not only until the third wave is over, but also until a vaccine is found.

We must try to find some normalcy in the fact that uncertainties could remain for some time. This is why the themes of the World Mental Health Day 2020 for Malaysia and the world are timely.

“Let’s TALK Minda Sihat”, “Kesihatan Mental Milik Semua”, “Bersama Cegah Bunuh Diri”, “Mental Health for All” and “Greater Investment — Greater Access” all underline the spirit of solidarity and unity that we must embody. They go hand in hand with one another.

FIRST, there is comfort in knowing that we are all experiencing the pandemic together. Naturally, not all of us are in the same boat — some of us are riding the coronavirus wave in yachts, while others are in speedboats and some are in sampan. For example, access to mental healthcare is dependent on income group and location.

However, the fact remains that Covid-19 has been unprecedented for everyone.

The pandemic is an opportunity to encourage more and more people to talk about their struggles in the spirit of “Let’s TALK Minda Sihat” and “Mental Health for All”. As we wrote in April, the simple act of asking “How are you?” is in itself an investment that can be made by each and every one of us.

SECOND, we must rally together and be mindful of the mental health impact of the pandemic on our children. The post-pandemic world will be different than what we are used to. Perhaps the world will be a lonelier place as we make a transition from the physical to the digital realm.

We can also assume that the digital world will be filled with negativity, from fake news, social polarisation, privacy breaches, cyberbullying to social media addiction. It is for these reasons that we must also be cognisant of our children’s mental health.

Investments and access for our children can be addressed by including mental resilience in early education to help them manage negative emotional responses, such as fear, stigma, social isolation, anxiety, humiliation and suicidal thoughts.

Self-care, self-esteem, emotional regulations and mindfulness are as important as literacy and numeracy. The emotional wellbeing of our children is a priority for homes and communities as much as it is for schools. The message to put forward is that when all else fails, there is always one weapon at our disposal — hope.

If the struggle for mental health has taught us anything, it is that things eventually get better. Raise awareness. Break the stigma. Support those who are struggling. Our very best wishes for World Mental Health Day 2020, Malaysia.

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan is international patron of World Mental Health Day 2020

This article was first appeared in New Straits Times on 10 October 2020

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