“I have been working for the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) since 2003. I was encouraged by my lecturer to study counseling beforehand. Joining the MMHA made me realise that mental illnesses are so much more than someone who is labeled as “crazy”. There are many factors that leads to someone’s mental illness.
When it comes to a person who struggles with their mental health, they are unable to cope when they encounter or are triggered by an issue. It affects their functions. For example, if it’s a student, they are unable to continue their studies, they can’t attend their classes, they can’t concentrate or focus. This leads them to feel that “I can’t do this, I’m suffering.” Another example could be when a worker is unable to concentrate or perform. This will make them feel like they are not effective, no longer useful, or unable to function.
As humans, we have to pay attention to our emotions. We tend to neglect and suppress what we feel. When we are tired, exhausted, feeling hopeless or unsupported, we tend to keep to ourselves. We tend to keep telling ourselves, “never mind, never mind”. Many of us highlight other people’s problems, trying to emphasise that they are more important than what we are going through. But we should learn to prioritise ourselves too. When you are in a good mental state, you are happy to help others feel better too. When you are not, how then? By learning from our own ups and downs, it helps us to improve as well.
The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, they are not exclusive to those suffering from a mental illness. People can feel lost because they are unable to find ways to solve the problem or options to cope with the issues they have. Sometimes it’s not about the mental illness, it’s about the issues we face and us not knowing where to go and how to deal with it.
If someone is having suicidal thoughts, what they can do first is to talk to someone who is able to understand. Although the other person may not necessarily solve the problem, the empathy they show will make them feel that they are not as hopeless or as alone in their situation. If someone comes up to you saying they are having suicidal thoughts, you can consider prompting further to ask if they have thought of ways to execute it. The reason why is so that we can assess the risk involved. From there, we can see if they have thoughts of it or if they have already planned the solution. Then how we can help is to convince the person to talk to someone, especially their family members, who can help them. Whether to take them to the hospital, or be with them, to reduce that risk. If someone comes up to you saying they are having suicidal thoughts or if you yourself are having suicidal thoughts, you should definitely encourage the need to see a psychiatrist.
There are several places where we can seek help. The public can check if the organisation is certified before seeking for their services. The government still has tele-counselling, providing assistance through the welfare department. There is still help accessible, but not a lot of people are aware of how to access it.
We have to check with the lawyers when it comes to law protecting mental illness patients. But in terms of the entitlement to benefits, they do have that right. There are three categories of common illness, where they can claim for treatment from their EPF. There is also some support through Perkeso (SOCSO), and the Welfare Department. In terms of legal, it’s not for me to comment on that. For a worker, they are entitled to medical leave. But in regards to whether they have a higher risk of being fired due to taking time off to treat their relapse, this is still debatable.
In terms of the topic of euthanasia, the choice to stop treatment is against human rights. However, we do understand the consequences. Hence, we normally educate clients about the risks of stopping your own treatment.
What helps me deal with my mental health are my children, because there is hope. Whenever I see them, I always think about their future. What I see, what I learn from working with MMHA, I always share what I encounter with my children – how I feel, what I think, what is happening in our society. I set aside alone time once a week, and I also invest in a hobby. I love sewing, doing arts and crafts.
What we as the public can do is to provide support. It’s not necessarily financial support, but it can be emotional support. Because when a person is suffering on the severe end of the spectrum, the focus is usually only on medication. But who is the one caring for their emotions? Once a patient starts seeking treatment, they need continuous support. By providing that, they will feel much more confident that someone is there, someone is understanding them, and someone who understands them could maybe one day be able to help them achieve something in their lives. We should not laugh, make jokes, look down on them, nor treat them differently. All of us are vulnerable. Anyone can be struggling with mental health issues without us realising.
People are afraid to talk about mental health because of the stigma and judgment that still exists. My experience with clients is that they try not to associate themselves with MMHA because they don’t want people to know about their problems. But our approach is that we try to educate them on this matter. The concern for these patients is for them to be able to get support in their workplace through someone knowing their issues. This isn’t to jeopardise their role in the workplace, but if anything happens, this person can help encourage them to seek treatment or inform their employer if anything happens.
For teenagers, they spend a lot of time with their friends. They listen a lot to their friends, sometimes rather than family members. If their friend is aware of what they are going through, they will know when to step in to encourage them to seek help. Family support also plays an important role. Family support helps to motivate a person to share about what they are going through, to recover, to seek treatment. Another method is through education – in schools, in public. I believe that all Malaysians should learn and understand what mental illness is. That it is important to learn, to know, and to help a person immediately. Our concern grows bigger when a person delays seeking help.”
Photostory by Maxy
Edited by Win Li