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LETTER | Let's make mental health care accessible to all

LETTER | In the past week, we read several reports of people with mental health issues ending their lives in shocking ways.

One was a young person who fell to his death in a shopping complex and the other involved a foreign national and two of his children. It is truly heartbreaking to hear young lives being lost in such tragic ways.

Mental health issues are taking a toll on our society and it is getting serious. Making things worse, we are still far from prepared to effectively tackle mental health issues. Apart from lacking qualified mental health professionals, there is also little affordable insurance coverage offered for those suffering from mental health issues, especially for B40 and other disadvantaged communities.

All components of the society – government, businesses, insurers and local communities – must come together to tackle this problem plaguing the people. Even our education curriculum must be revamped to adequately address mental health well-being as young children also face mental health issues.

Back to the recent deaths, the news involving the foreign national and his children was especially harrowing to me.

As a person who is receiving treatment for anxiety disorder with depressive symptoms, I have some understanding of the anguish that people with mental health disorders go through. In some ways, being diagnosed at the end of last year was a big relief to me, as I finally knew what was wrong with me.

My mental health issues started during the pandemic. I began suffering from irritability and anxiety issues at the end of 2020. At the time, I did not realise what was happening to me. I thought that I was probably overworked and just needed to “power through” and things will be alright.

But as months passed, things got worse. The sense of fear and dread became more pervasive. Soon I began suffering from panic attacks. There are days when I could barely get up from bed, dreading the day ahead. Later, I began to falter and found myself not being able to function and get things done.

I was a person who could withstand pressure and handle large amounts of workload. To see myself deteriorate to a state where I could not get up from bed was demoralising, even emasculating. I felt like I was losing my mind.

I consulted a psychiatrist and was then put on medication. Fortunately, I do not suffer from any side effects from it. Thanks to supportive colleagues, I was able to get my responsibilities at work adjusted, allowing me to work as usual.

Most important of all is the support I received from my then-girlfriend who has now become my spouse. She stood by me during the worst. Without her love, support and encouragement, it would have been difficult for me to envision myself living a normal life. We even managed to get married amid my mental health struggles.

Make no mistake about it. It is still a challenging journey. One, I still have to deal with my condition – I still get anxiety episodes, panic attacks and moments of ruminations. Most people around me do not know of my condition, and those who know, they may not truly understand what I’m going through.

Perhaps I do not have the words to tell them what I’m going through. Dealing with expectations that people have for me, real and imagined, also can take a toll on one’s mental health.

The cost of seeking treatment is by no means affordable to all and sundry. For me, it put a strain on my finances and I probably won’t be able to get insurance coverage for this. Many people, especially refugees, would have no way of accessing affordable mental health treatment in the country.

While there is still a journey ahead, and I don’t know how long and how arduous it may be, I am confident I will be okay and live life to the fullest.

When I feel that things get difficult, I take comfort in these words by Daisaku Ikeda:

“Life is long, and there is no need to rush things. I think it’s prudent in the case of psychological disorders to seek professional advice and take time to get proper care and treatment. Everyone’s situation is different. There is no universal prescription or panacea….

“We should warmly support and watch over those struggling with mental health issues, keeping their long-term welfare always in mind, and also sincerely encourage their family members. Those caring for others with emotional or psychological disorders face a great challenge, too, and they should try to find creative ways to take a break and refresh themselves.

“Showing care and support for those suffering from emotional illnesses will lead to the cultivation of a truly deep spirit of compassion and also to the creation of a richly humanistic society.”

I also take comfort in the efforts made by many people, especially youngsters, in raising awareness of mental health issues and encouraging more discussion about this crucial but often avoided topic.

I believe that efforts to bring about better mental health care for all should not simply be based on economic and demographic reasons, but rather based on the “cultivation of a truly deep spirit of compassion” and for the sake of realising the “creation of a richly humanistic society” that Ikeda calls for.

Let’s learn more about mental health issues and eliminate the stigma around it, and create a society that overflows with compassion and humanism.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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