1. What seems to be the biggest challenge for youth facing Mental Health issues in Malaysia post the pandemic?
Intensive lock-down policies coupled with stringent physical distancing measures have impacted every Malaysian child and young person. It’s the degree of setbacks that differs depending on stations in life. For young people grappling with psychological difficulties, harsh realities have become even bleaker post-pandemic.
I would say the two most pressing issues we are seeing and will continue to see for some time are related to education and employment. Disturbances in both are hard enough as it is because prolonged interference in the worlds of learning and work infringe on economic mobility and career trajectories. Education and work challenges are compounded when a young person is forced to straddle them alongside presenting mental health issues. Another loop that is emerging is where obstructions in education and employment have led to an increase in mental health conditions.
Statistics by the United Nations Foundation and World Health Organisation indicate that children are not progressing well at all in school and 20 years of gains made in education are being threatened. More than 100 million fell behind on reading proficiency in 2020. In the same year, youth employment diminished by close to 9%.
More young people have taken to the gig economy than ever before to make ends meet. Here too they face threats, at the tip of the iceberg being very uneven employment relationships where ambiguity breeds dangerous working conditions and exploitation. In more marginalised and unequal societies, higher incidents are being documented of domestic abuse, violence, child marriages and human trafficking with young people being the most impacted.
2. Stigma seems to be a key word when talking about Mental Health. What is it really and how can educators play a role in breaking down the stigma often seen in many environments and contexts in Malaysia?
Stigma is when an individual is viewed in a negative manner because of present psychological difficulties, mental health distress and/or mental illness. Due to the fact that they usually go together, I would like to also highlight the term ‘discrimination’. This is when someone is treated negatively owing to the presence of mental health challenges. Stigma and discrimination can exacerbate mental health problems because those who need treatment are less likely to seek help from the right channels for fear of being found out and exposed.
Research based data shows that stigma attached to mental health may cause delays in seeking assistance. The negative effects of stigma can be insidious – the average delay between onset of symptoms and commencement of treatment is 8 to 11 years!
Educators are best poised to lead the charge in dismantling stigma and undoing discrimination because of the uniquely influential positions they occupy in children’s lives.
The two biggest things educators can do are first, get educated ourselves about mental health – let the ‘U’ in educator be about educating YOU because when you know, then you can do the second – facilitate the children of Malaysia in normalising mental health discussions as common human experiences. Stigma and Discrimination are less likely to make an appearance at a party where the hosts are Acceptance and Inclusivity.
3. Mental Health covers a broad spectrum. How can we speak to and help someone with a mental health problem like depression or anxiety?
You can start by eradicating the phrase “I know how you feel” because the truth is we can never fully fathom and grasp another’s experience no matter how close the relationship or how similar the experience. Two people having lost loved ones will grieve quite differently even when experiencing a universal human condition like death.
Next, acquire some basic skills in psychological first-aid (PFA). Once this acquisition happens, we become empowered to assist not just with depression and anxiety but so much more. PFA evolved from the era of war and emergencies in the 1940s to present day scenarios. It’s an initial response intervention to give safety and stability to those in need. Let me also tell you what it isn’t. It is not something only professionals can do. It is not counselling. It is not psychiatric treatment. It is not clinical intervention. Anyone can learn it and hone it. So, become informed. There are professionals like counsellors who conduct courses.
In the interim, learn to become a good listener. By this I mean don’t just hear, but listen and when you listen, don’t just listen with the ears to fix things. Also listen with your heart to respond meaningfully. Malaysians are generally kind, warm and affectionate people. A heartfelt reflection or response – “I am so sorry to know that / it must be such a hard blow for you/you must be worried/can I help in some way? go a long way because people you’re supporting feel heard – they know that you are listening humanely. This will help them open up to you and they will feel supported in decisions they may need to make.
4. What affordable support services exist for those who are experiencing or supporting Mental Health related issues and concerns?
If you are seeking assistance, be sure to connect with Licensed and Registered Counsellors because we are certified as fit-for-practice by the Malaysian Board of Counsellors. A Licensed Professional Counsellor (LPC) carries two unique identification numbers beginning with K.B (to indicate Kaunselor Berdaftar) and P.A. (to indicate Perakuan Amalan) and it is your right to ask for identification just as you may ask a policeman for proof of identity. Aside from credibility and competence, LPCs are guided by a strict Code of Ethics and a sliding scale to determine our professional charges. As a result, Mental Healthcare services are generally within affordability for most Malaysians. You may connect with me at 016 335 9209.
If you are seeking to support mental health concerns and wish to become informed, you can find an extensive list of PFA resources on www.apa.org (APA is the American Psychological Association). Meanwhile, MY Confidential is a non-profit organisation where I presently serve as secretary and we offer affordable courses on PFA.
5. What is the best way to improve one’s mental wellbeing?
In true Malaysian fashion, why pick one when you can have a buffet? Here is a list you can choose from to find winning combinations for yourself. Some you may have developed and honed. Others you may need to grow and strengthen.
- In a culture that worships work, try to develop some demarcation. Put your spirit and mind into your work for it gives food for the table. Have a healthy cut-off time and then pour your heart and soul into the things that bring joy into your life. Family. Friends. Cooking. Baking. Sharing. Caring. Charity.
- Develop the ability to put words to your feelings. Enjoy the emotions that give you stability like happiness and calm. Develop respect for those that give you discomfort, like anxiety, stress and fear for their presence in your life means you are a healthy individual responding to the environment you are in.
- Learn how to discern between your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physiological responses. Understand how these inter-relate, compliment and influence each other within your ‘person’. We are complex creatures and it is essential that we learn to function with balance.
- Maintain good functionality through nutrition levels and sleep health. If food consumption is not sufficient for your unique needs, consider supplementing. Sleep health includes understanding your individual needs and lifestyle.
- Maintain a tight-knit social circle. The number of people do not matter. The quality of people do. Identify your 3 o’clock connections. Value them and keep them close.
- Identify what brings Belonging, Achievement and Fun into your life. Invest time and effort to develop and nurture skills to keep your mind and heart ticking. Keep active to maintain physical health and coordination. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!
- Develop resilience to tackle challenges. Avoid denial and withdrawal. We come pre-wired with a tremendous capacity to traverse obstacles and challenges. It shows in our evolutionary success.
- You see a doctor for your pain. You seek a builder to build your home. You find a spiritual guide to nourish your spirit. Seek a mental health professional for your psychological wellbeing.
About Heeran Kaur