LETTER | M for mental health, M for Malaysians

LETTER | Amid pressures of working on the Covid-19 situation, it is obvious that frontliners are facing a near burn-out from performing their daily tasks.Along with our Health Ministry director-general during his press conferences, healthcare workers, the police, army, Fire and Rescue department, other allied workers and not forgetting the press seem to be facing exhaustion. The public as well – facing the daunting tasks of returning to work with the new norm, plus having to deal with their daily social media/messages; reading and verifying which is right from wrong – is also facing mental exhaustion from this pandemic.We are now facing a different issue as we return to our daily lives with a new norm – the post-Covid-19 era. It is time we look at what is called in occupational health as “return to work/fitness to work again”. And by all means, I do not think that this is with sole reference to physical health, only. It is time that we now consider and recognise that mental health status is something that we should all pay attention to.Let me share something with you. In the UK, there is actually a ministry of mental health and their current shadow minister, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, has been vocal in the British Parliament.Among some of the arguments she advocates are regarding the mental health statuses of frontliners especially those of healthcare workers. She has, on many occasions, shared the importance of getting mental health assessment and services for frontliners so that they are not only physically prepared to combat the pandemic like true warriors but also mentally healthy to continue this fight. I think this should be the same policy here in Malaysia. We have a system of screening our patients especially in the local health clinics using the DASS-21 scale to measure depression, anxiety, and stress, so why not for our frontliners as well? Being already available in English and validated in Bahasa Malaysia, it can be used widely among our frontliners. There are other available scales like the PHQ-9 questionnaire or the GAD-7, that can be considered as well. Whatever said and done, we need a form of screening for them to ensure that not only are we sending out the right message regarding mental health awareness, but we are also looking into the holistic well-being of our workforce. I have been advocating for a couple of years now that the yearly Socso health screening should consist of a brief mental health screening for all workers. This can not only be used for screening, but we can look at it as a measurement of the baseline mental health status and see for progress/worsening of conditions so that we pick it up early and treat early. The above-mentioned questionnaires are simple tools that can be used for this (DASS-21 takes about 15 minutes to answer and there are many online sites that can generate results in less than 5 minutes). It can also potentially play a role in our public health programmes where mental health is concerned. I strongly urge the Health Ministry to take lead in this and begin a simple screening for staff and other frontliners as a pilot programme before we can better the screening system for the general workforce of the country. If you are an employer, please do consider asking your employees to take this self-administered mental health assessment in the form of detecting depression, anxiety, and stress – you can utilise the DASS-21 scale available for free at: English versionBahasa Malaysia versionRemember, if there is an issue with any of the workers, please get them to seek a complete assessment from a qualified medical professional to confirm the findings. Mental health awareness and screening are now more important than ever. The best way to ensure that people seek mental health treatment is to stop stigmatising those with mental health issues.Dr Arvinder-Singh HS is a medical officer with a certificate in Occupational Health, Masters in Health Research, Diploma in Football Medicine and is currently pursuing a PhD in Community Health focusing on adolescent athletes’ health.The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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