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When the mind cannot cope

The hidden danger of this pandemic is what it does to our emotional well-being, writes Meera Murugesan

THE recent suicide of a young pilot in Bandar Kinrara, Puchong shocked many people. He had lost his job due to the pandemic and the resulting stress was said to have led him to end his life.

It highlights the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has both physical and psychological impacts.

In May, the Malaysian Employers Federation predicted that over two million Malaysians would lose their jobs.

Depression already affects half a million Malaysian adults, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, a figure that may get worse given the impact of Covid-19 on jobs and lives.

Malaysian Mental Health Association president and consultant psychiatrist Professor Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says says people are not able to go back to normal if their lives have been drastically altered by death, disease or loss of income. Job security and financial support are crucial in ensuring mental wellness, he adds.

“While most people are resilient and will adjust to the situation, we will definitely see an increase in cases of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, insomnia and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if preventable measures are not put in place,” he says.


Prince Court Medical Centre consultant psychiatrist Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman predicts that we may see a global epidemic related to mental health given the uncertainty, loss of income and disruption to normal life caused by Covid-19.

“People are experiencing a loss of control over their lives. Some are unsure if they will still have a job in the coming weeks, employers are unsure whether they can pay salaries and families are worried if children will be safe. All these impact mental and emotional health.”

He adds that in the current situation, individuals would need three qualities to survive — creativity, adaptability and flexibility.

“If you have these traits, you can weather the storm. However, if you’re the type who is obsessive, always needs to be in control, rigid in your thinking and always dwelling on the what-ifs, then anxiety and depression can set in,” says Dr Daniel.


Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre consultant psychiatrist Dr Vincent Wong Choong Wai says an economic slowdown is a strong predictor of rising mental health prevalence.

Unemployment, income decline and unmanageable debts are significantly associated with poor mental well-being, increased rates of common mental disorders, substance-related disorders and suicidal behaviours.

“Some individuals are genetically more vulnerable to high levels of stress while others may be more resilient,” says Dr Wong.

Men tend to be more affected by job loss because they derive self-esteem and pride from their work, achievements and income-generating abilities.

Within a family, the stress caused by loss of employment can lead to arguments, domestic violence and child abuse.

How a family copes with new struggles in the current environment will depend on pre-existing dynamics in that family, says IMU Healthcare’s clinical psychologist Puvessha Jegathisan.

She explains that in a supportive family, individuals can depend on one another.

However, if there are already pre-existing tension in a family, the current situation will make matters worse.

Dr Daniel Seal, a clinical psychologist and founder of Share Resolve, says families in the B40 category are particularly vulnerable to stress.

They are more likely to have lost their jobs and have less savings to tide them through a period of unemployment. They also have fewer resources to help them cope.

The Covid-19 crisis does not just affect one’s physical health — it kills in many ways, says Dr Amarpreet Kaur, a clinical hypnotherapist and a consultant psychiatrist at Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre.

Fear, worry and anxiety can cause depression and eventually lead to suicidal thoughts.


The Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre and Mercy Malaysia launched a support hotline for those affected by the current crisis on March 24. Unsurprisingly, 46.8 per cent of calls received were psychologically-related.

“The stress of losing a job can take a heavy toll on someone’s mood, relationships and overall mental and emotional health. Losing one’s job is akin to the grief of losing a loved one.”

It is important to realise this, says Dr Amarpreet, adding that “giving yourself permission to grief is the first step towards getting back on your feet”.

“People who adapt better give themselves time to adjust. They allow themselves to feel what they are feeling, and understand that even the most unpleasant and negative feelings will pass,” she says.

Suicide claims almost 800,000 lives every year globally and is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29.

Suicide is often thought of as a gender-neutral issue. In reality, it is a problem that affects men far more than women.

Dr Amarpreet explains that women are more likely to try to kill themselves, but men are more likely to die from it.

This is mainly due to two things: firstly, men use more lethal means to attempt suicide; and secondly, they do not seek mental health services as much.


* Accept that crisis/change/loss may happen.

* Develop healthy coping skills to face adversities and “rainy days”.

* Eat well, sleep well and exercise.

* Adjust your lifestyle to meet needs, not wants.

* Stick together as a family.

* Find trusted friends/mentors to express your innermost thoughts and feelings.

* Finding meaning/purpose in life beyond your career/job.

* Seek help if you’re struggling with mental health issues.

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