MCO may have profound psychological effects

It will probably provoke more anxiety for people from the middle and low socioeconomic status, says psychologist


THE Movement Control Order (MCO) can lead up to multiple psychological effects on Malaysians as many are likely to face financial strains following the shutdown of business premises and workplaces.

Relate Mental Health Malaysia Bhd’s (Relate Malaysia) clinical psychologist Lum Khay Xian said with the government extending the MCO, it will probably provoke more anxiety for people from the middle and low socioeconomic status.

“Because the economic impact may be more severe as the partial lockdown is prolonged, having to stay indoors for a prolonged time will also make one feel isolated in addition to worries, anxiety over the situation and helplessness.

“Such feelings can be overwhelming if we do not know how to regulate it or if we do not have someone to discuss it with,” she said to The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently.

Lum said psychologically, one may feel lonely and disconnected, especially for those who are staying alone indoors and away from friends and family.

“We may also feel low, unmotivated, unproductive and our sleep pattern may also change. Another thing is, when we live an inactive life, we may risk depriving ourselves of the happy brain chemicals that may perpetuate the low mood that we experience,” she said.

Given the current situation, she said people who have pre-existing disorders such as anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder may be triggered by an overwhelming sense of helplessness that will worsen their symptoms.

In Malaysia, there are many crisis hotlines such as Talian Kasih and Befrienders, besides online therapy platforms that are still in operation for people to reach out to, including Relate Malaysia.

When asked if the MCO might cause profound psychological effects that would last even after the order was lifted, Lum did not rule it out.

“As it may take some time to recover and stimulate the economy, some may experience emotional stress due to financial strain.

“For healthcare workers, as much as we anticipate that the Covid-19 outbreak will finally be stabilised, health workers may need sufficient time to recover from their burnout, especially for those working in hospitals caring for people,” said Lum.

Healthcare workers are the most vulnerable to both high risks of infection and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, fear and frustration.

However, Lum stated the effects of the MCO may not all be negative as Malaysians may learn from it and take better precautions if similar situations occur in the future.

Meanwhile, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said whether the MCO has any lasting impressions on Malaysians, the majority of people are able to comply with a “stay at home” plea and restricted movement order.

“It has not required a state of emergency as has been the case in some countries. One major concern has been that Malaysians took a complacent and fatalistic attitude to health and its consequences. Maybe this will change,” he told TMR.

Aside from being more health-conscious and aware of the need for preventive health measures such as doing more exercise, Azrul hopes that Malaysians will realise that health needs more investment from the government.

“It also needs participation and support from the people. Maybe they won’t take health issues for granted. After all, health is a political issue,” he added.