Time to focus on Mental Health

THIS year’s World Mental Health Day, celebrated globally on Oct 10, comes when the world is facing the unprecedented mental health consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The theme is “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment, Greater Access”, and various sectors are urged to invest in better mental health programmes and amplify access to mental health services.

On top of the fear of contracting Covid-19, many of us face the new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment and reduced physical contact with other family members and friends.

The levels of fear, uncertainty and emotional distress are understandably rising during this pandemic. Consequently, everyone should also take part in individual levels by prioritising good mental well-being.

Mental health well-being describes how you feel and how well you can cope with life’s challenges. Long periods of low mental well-being can lead to mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression.

Here are some practical tips we can take to improve and maintain our mental well-being:

1) Value yourself and stay positive. Avoid self-criticism and stop comparing your life with others. Find a beneficial/meaningful activity that you enjoy, for example make time for your hobbies or learn new skills.

2) Exercise, get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals and avoid cigarettes, alcohol or other substance use.

3) Learn how to deal with stress. Like it or not, stress is part of our lives. Practising good coping skills may enhance your resilience to stress. Identify the source of stress and try to let go of things beyond your control. We can manage our emotions by using stress-reducing techniques such as practising meditation, praying, taking a walk, having a pet or listening to music.

4) Maintain connections. Social and physical distancing leads to social isolation, but we do not need to feel alone. We should stay in touch with our family and friends. While it is essential to have real meaningful interactions, excessive social media use may lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

5) Be empathetic to others. Empathy promotes abilities that help us regulate our emotions so that we can better relate to others in positive ways. Reach out to those in need or who might be particularly isolated.

6) Seek help. If you are struggling to feel happy, cope with everyday life, find meaning or feel connected to others, see your doctor or mental health professionals. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.

7) Maintain a positive relationship with social media. Balance the time spent on social media with other activities. Limit consumption to trusted sources such as the Health Ministry’s official Telegram and Facebook pages.

Most of us are anxious to share information, but misleading and false information pose serious consequences. Do verify information with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s website “Sebenarnya.my”.

On top of this, use social media mindfully.

Let us invest in our mental health well-being by getting the appropriate and best care for more meaningful and rewarding lives.

To this end, policymakers should encourage educational initiatives to raise awareness of the importance of good mental well-being.

Institute of Epidemiology
University of Gießen, Germany

Dr Wan Kim Sui and Prof Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi
Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence-Based Practice
Department of Social and Preventive Medicine
Faculty of Medicine
Universiti Malaya

*The opinion piece was first published in the Star newspaper on 10 October 2020. Dr Wan Kim Sui is a Doctor of Public Health candidate from the Ministry of Health and is supervised by Prof Noran and Prof Moy.

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