MCO: Mental health aspect needs attention, says expert

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): Lay-offs, homelessness, burnout and social isolation make for a perfect storm to trigger mental health issues amidst the fight against the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. But it seems to be the elephant in the room right now. Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre consultant psychiatrist Assoc Prof Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin anticipates a slow rise in mental illness in the second week of the movement control order (MCO), imposed by the government on March 18 to flatten the curve of infection in the country. The government has since extended the order for a further two weeks, ending on April 14. “We definitely have seen a rise in those with mental illness reaching out for help. These individuals who were previously stable, have been destabilised due to the current situation, ” he told Bernama via email. “As for the others, we have seen some present with anxiety but nothing major yet, ” he said. Over a recent 10-year period, the number of Malaysians experiencing poor mental health such as low mood, worry, tension and stress, tripled from 10.7 per cent in 1996 to 29.2 per cent in 2015. So far, the effects of Covid-19 on mental health have not yet been studied systematically but it is anticipated that the effects of the pandemic will have a rippling effect on mental health. As such, Dr Amer Siddiq believes the government needs to focus on the welfare of citizens. “Even during the MCO, there is little reassurance for the people who suffer the most as many need to work to earn a daily wage. “Also, information on help needs to be better provided and targeted to these populations. Most initiatives appear to be disseminated through social media which these people might not have access to, ” he noted. Dr Amer Siddiq further explained that mental health issues which materialise during disasters including public health emergencies such as Covid-19, could be likened to responses to grief. “(Because) we are all losing some form of control and our normal way of life, ” an individual might embark on a cycle of grief comprising shock, followed by anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance, he said. It is understood that Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) is undertaking research to identify the mental health, behaviour and social support among Malaysians during the implementation of the MCO. To date, Malaysia has recorded 2,161 cases of Covid-19, with a death toll of 26. Globally, there are more than 512,701 confirmed cases in about 200 countries. The death toll has surpassed 23,000. Market observers anticipate challenging times or even a recession on the horizon amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus. The crash of oil prices, widespread business closures and unprecedented restrictions on social interactions have also led to weaker sales for small businesses. “I hope we don’t get to this. However, if a recession happens, we can expect a harder time for people in the B40 (low income group) and in the bottom half of the M40 (middle income group), ” Dr Amer Siddiq said. Governments globally have come out with various measures to support their citizens and economies. In Malaysia, the government announced a RM250bil economic stimulus package. Unlike previous measures, the Prihatin Rakyat package has covered almost all Malaysians from all walks of life, be it in the B40 or M40 groups and others, in the form of financial assistance and other support. – Bernama

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