A conversation is all we need

Several govt bodies and organisations have set up hotlines to assist anyone dealing with mental health-related problems heightened by the pandemic

by LYDIA NATHAN

THE Covid-19 pandemic has created quite a ripple effect on people’s mental health, with anxiety and isolation showing a steep increase around the world as fears of the virus grow each day.

The course of mental health diagnosis and treatments also interchanged, as hospitals began to fill up with Covid-19 patients, while the rest stayed away.

Taylor’s University’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences psychology programme director Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan (second from right) said one main aspect that changed was moving to online examinations and diagnosis for this health concern.

“Consultations were done online, but by doing so, you do lose out on a series of examinations like body language, interactions and non-verbal clues,” she told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview recently.

However, Anasuya said if a practitioner uses “pen and paper” style examination, it would be worthwhile and that it could work.

“This includes a battery of tests and questions that the patient can answer, while next steps can be decided on the basis of that. But for cases such as Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is still advisable to consult with a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist to get a full-scale analysis and a treatment plan,” she added.

According to Anasuya, several government bodies and organisations have set up hotlines to assist anyone dealing with mental health-related problems.

One example is Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia which offers individuals advice and counselling needs.

“I have been on the receiving end of these calls and would like to assure the masses that these hotlines are operating well,” she said.

Queries and calls to these hotlines include relationship advice, marriage advice, as well as dealing with social isolation and anxiety, along with other family issues.

“Sadly, we saw an increase in verbal abuse, self-harm issues, domestic violence and violent behaviour among family members, especially at the height of the Movement Control Order (MCO),” Anasuya said.

She said families who live together, especially those with three generations under one roof, face more heat during this period.

“Extra attention needs to be given to everyone, to ensure that children remain engaged with schoolwork and assignments, while working parents deal with the new norm of working from home while keeping personal and professional lives separate.

“For parents who are part of essential industries, ensuring that their families stay safe is an added stress. So, it is fair to say the parent demographic currently is facing quite a lot of challenges and management issues,” Anasuya said.

She said the key to dealing with this is to look out for the signs and be able to have conversations around it.

“The right support is always available, so ask for help if you need it. When at home, if you start feeling uneasy, take some time off to practice yoga or meditation, read some books, learn something new, or do something different to calm yourself down.

“Keeping away from negative news will also help, so remember to be kind to yourself and learn to listen to your body and mind,” she said.

Acknowledging conversations around this issue may be hard for some, Anasuya said the best way to go about it is when people are not angry.

“Timing is key, we often have the tendency to initiate such conversations when everybody around us is already in a worked-up state.

“When people are upset and angry, they behave defensively and any conversation you have will fall on deaf ears,” she said.

For more difficult situations, a mediator may need to be brought in, like a mutual friend or an elderly family member.

“Of course if none of these work, you should consult a therapist. Therapists also often come in and mediate and help give solutions that can be applied to restore wellbeing at home,” she said.

Meanwhile, Anasuya said industry experts and policymakers are already aware that there will be a drastic increase for therapy requirements, as long as the pandemic presents an issue.

“From my personal standpoint, one thing policymakers need to pay attention to as we move forward is the education of online counselling.

“Internships for students should also focus on telephone counselling, so we are trained to respond and recognise queries over a phone, in attempts to make sure the next generation is better prepared to handle online and phone counselling in similar situations,” Anasuya added.