I ALWAYS read Sandy Clarke’s column about mental health with great interest (Sunny Side Up, first and third Sundays in Lifestyle). As we attempt to manage the current Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, there is another unacknowledged pandemic that is affecting more and more people, of all ages and walks of life. From school-going children facing disruptions to their schooling and isolated elders living alone who have no avenue of engagement to businesses shutting down and employees losing their jobs, all are affected.
The pandemic is taking a toll on our mental health, with stress, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts threatening our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. Every day we hear of people trying to cope with what is beyond their control. They are stigmatised and discriminated against for not being able to deal with anxiety and stress. Eventually, some even attempt suicide.
Children and youth are particularly vulnerable. According to Health Ministry statistics, close to half a million children are affected by stress, anxiety, and depression. One out of every five kids suffer from depression, one out of 10 is stressed, and one out of five struggles with anxiety and – making pandemic-driven anxiety even worse – one out of six is bullied.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rotary Malaysia has embarked on relief efforts, offering everything from food aid to supporting education and providing immediate relief to affected families.
Having been on the ground over the last one and half years, we have seen what appears to us to be a drastic disruption in the mental health wellbeing of many.
This silent pandemic demands immediate attention and needs to be dealt with holistically. The situation is of great concern and many organisations, groups and government agencies are endeavouring to create greater awareness about it. Rotary Malaysia formed an action group on mental health initiatives and has since been actively involved in creating awareness, designing solutions, and executing programmes to promote mental health for children, adolescents, and adults.
In the past 12 months, we have been working on a mental health agenda together with government ministries and other stakeholders, putting into place a holistic approach to address this sensitive issue on many fronts. In our discussions, it became clear that we need to have closer collaboration among all the relevant stakeholders.
Rotary Malaysia has now initiated the National Coalition for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW) and invited everyone concerned to take part. The aim of the coalition is to establish a centralised, visible leadership to provide strategic guidance through co-ordinated efforts, and to disseminate information to raise awareness and move mental health issues into the mainstream.
Currently 15 organisations, associations, and NGOs and an additional 20 individual professionals are members of the coalition. The NCMW’s plan is for a comprehensive and integrated approach to tackle mental healthcare challenges at every level of society. The engagement with the various stakeholders will bring together expertise in dealing with this silent pandemic, which will undoubtedly have a long-term impact on society long after the Covid-19 crisis is over.
A series of public engagement events have been held through webinars and the NCMW is promoting helplines of various support centres such as Befrienders (03-7627 2929), Gem Helpline (011-2528 9610/011-5994 4384), Malaysian Mental Health Association (017-613 3039), Naluri (03-8408 1748), National Cancer Society of Malaysia (1-800-88 1000), Sneham (1-800-22 5757) and Talian Kasih (15999 / 019-261 5999).
The coalition is also engaging with institutions, universities and colleges to provide youth peer support groups; in the pipeline are such groups through Rotary’s school-based Mind Matters Club. In addition, we hope to teach parents to recognise the signs of anxiety and depression in their children and to create a home-based support system.
The World Health Organisation, as one of our strategic partners, provided the NCMW with a series of public messaging videos in managing mental health that we have translated into our local languages. So apart from English, the videos are also available in Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. They can be accessed at bit.ly/mental_care.
There is a need to start talking about mental wellbeing. We need to talk about how this silent pandemic can dominate our lives and how vulnerable we can be. We need to talk about how we can defend ourselves, our children and our nation from this unseen and mostly unacknowledged pandemic. How to come together and collectively destigmatise mental health issues and work towards normalising mental healthcare.
The members of the NCMW share a vision. Our dream is a happier and healthier society. We endeavour to act as a resource and catalyst for the mental wellbeing of every child, adolescent, and adult in Malaysia. NCMW is committed to silencing this silent pandemic.
DATUK BINDI RAJASEGARAN
Incoming District Governor RY 21 /22,
Rotary International, District 3300