Economic recovery goes hand in hand with managing mental health

Sarimah (bottom right panel) delivering her keynote address during the webinar.

KUCHING: The nation’s economy can only fully recover and progress if the mental and emotional state of its people is healthy and there is a sense of hope to move forward despite the many obstacles.

In expressing this belief, celebrity mental health advocate and patron of Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (MIASA) Che Puan Sarimah Ibrahim emphasised the importance of hope and the motivation to keep fighting and persevering.

“The question is whether people’s mental health is seen as important enough in the development of our country.”

She pointed out that although the Covid-19 pandemic had opened the gates for people all over the globe to talk about mental health, the level of awareness, acceptance, and readiness to speak up still continues to be a challenge in Malaysia.

“Cultural habits and the old school ways don’t die off easily.”

She said this when delivering her keynote address during a webinar entitled ‘Covid-19 Pandemic Challenges: Mental Health and Human Rights’ organised by Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) Sarawak and held via Zoom and livestream on Wednesday (Oct 13).

“Alongside the pandemic, more people have come to realise the state of their own mental health and the importance of seeking help. We still have a long way to go, but it is always baby steps that matter first.”

Sarimah said the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions and implications, such as the movement control order (MCO), had negatively impacted people’s psychological and emotional states.

She noted that vulnerable groups in particular faced significant struggles during the pandemic, including loss of income, which could cause depression and other mental health issues.

“The government and non-government entities can play a role in helping and cultivating awareness among the community with regard to early preventive measures to curb mental health issues,” she said, adding that no one was exempted from mental health challenges.

She said if mental health issues were not curbed at an early stage with proper treatment, this could contribute to the risk of suicidal symptoms.

“Suicide is a symptom of deep pain, depression, severe anxiety, and trauma that has been kept too long without being addressed.”

Sarimah also said a stable and calm mind would lead to less suffering in society and more empathy, whereby people can depend on each other, thrive, and progress. 

The webinar was moderated by Suhakam Sarawak commissioner Datuk Dr Madeline Berma, and other speakers included Sentosa Hospital director Dr Rosliwati Md Yusoff; Laura Kho Sui San, founder of Mind Brew, an initiative under Mental Health Association of Sarawak (MHAS); and Kian Tungku, chairman of Pertubuhan Orang Cacat Sarawak (POCS).