The COVID-19 pandemic has brought great disruptions and immense challenges all across the globe. Uncertainty and major changes to the way we live our lives are having a considerable impact on our mental health. Nonetheless I remain optimistic that amidst such adversity, there are silver linings for the mental health community.
With mental health now at the forefront, the pandemic has increased pressure to address both pre-existing and newer issues. There has also been no shortage of coverage on staying mentally healthy – why it is important, how it can be done, and how we can support one another. The simple act of asking a loved one “How are you?” is no longer underestimated. In some ways, COVID-19 has broken barriers and created more awareness on mental health, and we must ensure that these conversations continue in the post-pandemic “new normal”.
It is in this context that I feel the theme Mental Health for All. Greater Investment – Greater Access. Everyone, everywhere… is most timely for World Mental Health Day 2020.
I am proud to share that sentiments on mental health are changing in Malaysia. I have been humbled time and time again by the efforts of my peers to push for a more holistic, whole-of-society approach to mental health.
As Malaysia transitions out of its own lockdown, we have concluded that communities and society at large could possibly be more fragmented and polarised if mental health reforms are not catalysed – amongst different income groups, and amongst those newly experiencing mental health issues and those who have pre-existing conditions. I am sure that this is not unique to Malaysia alone.
With efforts to decriminalise suicide underway back home, we are beginning to see some recognition that investments in mental health should also be made by those beyond the mental health community. Such investments need not be economic or financial, groundbreaking or revolutionary. Rather, these investments are of our time, attention, love and compassion, all of which can be done out of our own goodwill.
First, we can learn to have empathy for those suffering as well as their families. We can also improve our mental health literacy as the spectrum is wide, with stark differences between mental health issues and illnesses.
Second, we can uphold the basics of human interaction – emotional connection, face-to-face communication, kindness, understanding and thoughtfulness – to nurture mental resilience for those who need it most.
Third, we can be mindful of the important role that communities play in fostering a sense of care and togetherness. By doing our part as members in society, I am confident we will raise awareness on mental health and break its stigmatisation.
These investments are not purely the government’s responsibility, nor should doctors be the only answer for those suffering. These investments are the responsibility of all. More importantly, they indicate that we ourselves are an untapped resource in mental healthcare.
For without greater investment in mental health, we risk losing greater access to mental health.
In the time I have spent highlighting the challenges of mental health, it has become apparent that raising public awareness comes hand in hand with ensuring accessible mental healthcare.
The task at hand is for us all to identify challenges that impede good mental healthcare practices; to educate and train primary care providers and frontline staff with mental health first aid strategies; and to improve the overall mental healthcare system to anticipate future needs such as a pandemic.
While COVID-19 has increased the spotlight on mental health, the stocktaking of how greater access to mental healthcare can be improved must always be a continuous process. We can always do more to strengthen mental health response and support in our communities.
Ultimately, mental health, quality of life and wellbeing should be seen as additional indicators of standards of living. This is the level that we should aspire to as we move towards the “new normal”.
I thank the World Federation for Mental Health for the opportunity to be Patron of World Mental Health Day 2020.
My work thus far has focused on kick-starting a much-needed conversation in Malaysia on how we can shape a more attentive and compassionate society. I am honoured to be working alongside the World Federation for Mental Health and their partners to bring this conversation to greater heights on the global stage.
As the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the entire world to reset and rebuild for a better tomorrow, it is my hope that we too pause and reflect on what we would like our future to be.
My very best wishes for World Mental Health Day 2020.