It was just minutes before midnight when the mobile phone rang.
As the receiver answers the call, Linda (not her real name) cries and pleads for help, saying she is on the verge of taking her life.
The receiver is dumbfounded. While struggling to make sense of what his friend is saying, he searches for the right words to comfort Linda.
He manages and rushes to Linda’s home and finds her curled up on the floor sobbing. There are fresh marks on her arms.
While Linda was comforted, the same cannot be said about the hundreds of other sufferers.
Some turn to trusted friends, close family members or call Befrienders (+60379568145).
Yet, friends and family members admit they are often in the dark, not knowing what to say in such situations.
There are those who downplay mental health while there are others who feel those who claim to suffer from depression or anxiety are just ‘too soft’.
Based on the 2019 research survey conducted by the Malaysian Psychiatrist Association (MPA), about half of the respondents (50.7 per cent) preferred talking to a friend about their mental health issues, while internet search is the second ranked choice. Among youths, over half (65 per cent) of them surveyed would likely use a smartphone application to seek for information on mental health.
276 respondents were randomly surveyed in a web-based questionnaire from Aug 5 2019 to Sept 18 2019.
However, those who were surveyed are also worried about mental health stigmas and being discriminated for seeking help. More than eight out of ten (85 per cent) are worried that seeking mental health care may affect their career prospects, while one in every two (52 per cent) are deeply concerned about the negative reaction from family and friends.
Over two thirds (67 per cent) are embarrassed to seek help.
According to the National Health Morbidity Survey (2015), one in three Malaysian adults aged 16 and above suffer from some form of mental health issues.
By next year, mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem – after heart disease – affecting Malaysians.
Taking the lead to address the stigma and to correct the perception, MPA, Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) and Pfizer Malaysia jointly launched ‘The Mental Health Handbook’ this morning.
Present at the launch were Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Pfizer Malaysia country medical director Dr Jerusha Naidoo, MPA president Dr Hazli Zakaria and MMHA deputy president Associate Professor Dr Ng Chong Guan.
The handbook provides an overview of what mental illness is about, measures one can take when speaking to someone who has it and a directory of mental health services nationwide.
Dr Naidoo said families, friends and colleagues are often the first few to encounter someone suffering from mental illness.
“As such, we must educate individuals and communities with the right knowledge, skills and support on how to start a conversation with those struggling with mental illness.”
She added that improved access to mental health resources, strong peer support and professional guidance will empower more Malaysians to come forward and seek treatment early.
Two key highlights of the handbook are how to recognise signs or symptoms of mental illness and when to seek professional help.
When dealing with someone who has depression, the handbook states that talking face-to-face can be a big help. It’s best to encourage the person to talk about their feelings and listen without judgment.
If someone is suffering from an anxiety attack, the handbook says the most effective solution is to help them concentrate on slow breathing. If possible, pay attention to what they find calming.
Dr Hazli said it is important to note that mental illness is treatable.
“Mental disorders encompass a broad range of problems with different symptoms. One of the key chapters in the handbook discusses how to recognise early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness and when to seek professional help.”
Dr Ng said it is pertinent for colleges and universities to educate students on how to identify signs and symptoms of mental disorders and offer help.
“It is also vital to build positive mental well-being and emotional resilience in adolescents and equip them with effective coping techniques to deal with daily challenges and mental stress,” Dr Ng added.
The digital copy of the handbook will be made available at https://www.myhealthmylife.com.my/ on Friday.