‘Mental health awareness, support involves more than just healthcare professionals’

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health.

In Malaysia, the Health Ministry’s Psychosocial Support Line received 223,990 calls between the start of the pandemic last year, until Sept 19, with 80.8 per cent of callers in need of emotional support and counselling.

According to academician Chan Wen Li, police recorded 468 suicide cases in the first five months of 2021, an increase from the 631 cases for the entire year of 2020, and 609 in 2019.

“I have found that mental health awareness and support involves more than just healthcare professionals. There are many stakeholders within one’s community who play important roles in helping to lead a person in need, safely, to the right channels of support,” said Chan, an assistant professor of Business Law at University of Nottingham Malaysia.

“I have also come to realise that there is much to learn about supporting someone who is going through a mental health crisis. To better equip myself, I recently registered for a course that led to me being awarded the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certification by MHFA Malaysia.”

The MHFA is a licensed and evidence-based training programme from MHFA International, Australia. MHFA accreditation for individuals in Malaysia is issued by the Malaysian Mental Health Association.

The course imparts knowledge on how to help a person with mental health problems, until appropriate professional help is administered. Mental Health First Aiders are not mental health professionals, and the MHFA does not mean that a person can diagnose or treat mental health conditions.

Chan added it would greatly benefit Malaysia, as a caring nation, to work towards having a Mental Health First Aider in every workplace and educational institution.

“Just as organisations routinely organise training programmes for physical first aid certification, it is about time for mental health first aiders to be viewed as equally important. Equipping more people with the know-how to provide early intervention to prevent mental health problems from escalating, facilitates early recovery and could potentially, save lives.”

“My personal journey that led me to the MHFA certification, was also motived by my current research. Together with mental health professionals and media experts, the University of Nottingham Malaysia, and our academics, intend to engage with suicide-prevention stakeholders in Malaysia on the best ways to encourage ethical and safe reporting of suicide-related news.

“This is with a view of averting harm from vulnerable persons who may be at risk of ‘copycat’ suicidal behaviour upon reading news that is sensationalised, contain explicit details, or oversimplifies the complex multifactorial causes of suicide.”

She added the engagement aspires to promote the generation of stories focused on positive coping and help-seeking.

The findings of this research will have implications beyond media ethics, per se. The rise of web-based platforms in recent years have increasingly blurred the boundaries between conventional, and citizen journalism.

She said citizens were often able to report ‘breaking news’ more quickly than traditional reporters. As such, knowledge of safe messaging for suicide prevention would be key, not just for media professionals and regulators, but also for the man on the street.

“I am encouraged to see a greater focus on awareness and conversations surrounding mental health in Malaysia, the worrying cases of mental health crisis over the past 18 months notwithstanding.”

“I hope to encourage ordinary Malaysians to be part of the solution and take that step towards becoming a Mental Health First Aider in each of our own little communities, be it our small circle of friends, colleagues or even neighbours,” she added.

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