The challenges in managing mental health during transition to endemicity

By Wala’ Muiz

GOMBAK, 13 May 2022: Mental health has been an important aspect of human beings that is vulnerable to the environment of which changes can be observed during challenging times such as during the transition towards endemic.

Such matter deserves to be explored further and consistently to find better approaches towards handling mental health issues where academicians, counsellors and psychologists discussed the issues surrounding mental health from different perspectives.

A talk titled “Mental Health: Adapting to Challenging Time” organised by PERMATA IIUM was successfully held yesterday featuring Nurul Nadhrah binti Mahbob, an established and registered counsellor, who was also the founder of ICSM Counselling Services.

The talk was moderated by Nurul Hannan Puteri Binti Mahbob, a committee member of PERMATA, IIUM.

Nurul Hannan opened the session by highlighting complaints by students about the deteriorating state of mental health, and cases of suicide and self-harm among them.

In response to the question, Nurul Nadhrah, a master’s degree holder in Guidance and Counselling and a Johor LPPKN Panel Counsellor, suggested solutions to difficulties faced in adapting to current challenges specifically in respect of retaining mental health.

Reacting to the issue of challenges raised by the student on having difficulty to complete assignments on time, the counsellor agreed that the transition to endemic has put a toll on people’s minds where the inability to adapt to a new situation might be a factor.

The questions raised resemble those asked during a counselling session like the audience’s state of emotions on a scale of 10. Most answered around 6-8. She then addressed the ways on how to handle emotions well, like adapting to the environment positively which are considered of utmost importance during a pandemic or an endemic.

The audiences were also given tips on how to deal with the virus and the emotional aspect was emphasised such as adapting to the thought of being in a pandemic to reduce one’s anxiety in dealing with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Nurul Nahrah pointed out problems that occur at home as a starter such as parents fighting and residents being surrounded by toxicity. Quoting statistics from UNESCO, she highlighted that “83 percent of kids and 89 percent of parents accounted for an increase in feelings of negativity because of the pandemic.”

Sexual harassment issue was also brought up as one of the sources of feeling insecure during the pandemic which mostly affects those from low-income households.

Nadhrah also highlighted that anxiety occurs in those who have never experienced it before, which aggravates the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Malaysians.

She said, “The online condition of interaction causes sadness in most students.”

Both internal and external factors were affected by the way people adapt to the pandemic that was brought up by Nadhrah. It is to help students get to know the ways they can adapt to the pandemic to deal with their mental health better.

Nadhrah highlighted the environment, one’s religion and culture, health and emotions, language, academics and social relations among the factors that affect one’s ability to adapt. “The key issue while the pandemic happened is the state of virtuality which affects majority of students due to still studying at the university.”

Nadhrah also mentioned the need to take care of one’s diet to avoid having low self-esteem from an unhealthy body, apart from avoiding caffeine. One should adapt to the new environment in universities such as making friends with people from other cultures and religions, and finding new peers that are suitable with themselves.

“It is important to know what kind of friends we would like to surround ourselves with as everyone is subjected to their own ways of socialising,” said Nadhrah.

“Negative feelings are very much normal,” Nadhrah added. This is in reference to how one should deal with their emotions where there must be a positive approach to negative feelings.

In her slideshows, Nadhrah quoted 122,328 as the number that represents people affected by mental health.

“Emotional support is important at times like this,” Nadhrah said. “It is important to entrust the right people with stories about their mental health in order to help them cope better”.

Nadhrah further elaborated that the common misperception towards counselling is that it is only made for problematic people as outlined by the society such as the juveniles, while in actuality, it is made for anyone at all who faces emotional problems as little as feeling anxiety and going through bad days.

“11,596 people had met counsellors to deal with their emotions revolving around stressful problems, depression, anxiety, loneliness, mental disorders and attempts for suicide,” Nadhrah further said.

It is therefore important, she said, not to spread viral messages that could trigger victims of deteriorating mental health due to the pandemic. “Don’t put your emotions as a frame of guidance as they are the work of Satan,” Nadhrah highlighted.

Problems are meant to be shared to deal with them healthily and more effectively, the counsellor suggested.

To be more specific in the challenges faced by people with worsening mental health, Nadhrah suggested that people are affected cognitively, emotionally, physically and in their attitudes that can be observed by others.

One of the most prominent symptoms is one’s inability to think rationally, focus during important occasions such as in classrooms and make the right decisions during urgent times, highlighted Nadhrah.

“Feelings of rebellion persist in an environment one does not like, aggravated by deteriorating mental health,” the counsellor said.

“How many have experienced anxiety?” This is an important question directed to the audience to study the seriousness of the situation and the state of the audience of 74.

“It feels like a brick has hit my chest and I cannot breathe properly,” one of the participants shared.

The counsellor mentioned five senses grounding techniques during an anxiety attack to relieve it. As pointed out by the counsellor, engaging with taste, sight, hearing, touch and smell, such as listening to soothing songs, and Quranic verses and seeing nice views such as greenery, should be put to practice.

“Anxiety symptoms such as overthinking and over-stressing may bring to physical illnesses such as migraine, heart attack, diabetes and high blood pressure,” the counsellor pointed out while explaining mental health insofar as being unwell goes ignored and untreated.

According to psychology, 90 percent of people living with depression will deny their state. “People who go through depression live in different shoes than that of the healthy. Depression can be made worse by the deaths of loved ones due to the pandemic,” Nadhrah emphasised.

“It is important for them to practice self-reflection most of the time to relieve the calamities that have afflicted them especially that of the loss of loved ones.”

Following the steps to adapt oneself to the environment, the counsellor highlighted the reasons why one cannot seem to bring themselves to adapt to the current challenges of the world.

From the academic perspective, it is important for students to adapt to online learning and ensure that attendance is consistent as it was before the pandemic during physical classes. Should consistency be retained, the intention and sincerity of it in pursuing university studies must always remain in students’ minds, Nadhrah added.

Barakah is important,” she explained.

Gadget addiction was also pointed out as one of the causes of the inability to keep up with academics as a byproduct of failure to adapt to current challenges. “Our bodies will feel exhausted as our minds have been often occupied with gadgets until late at night,” Nadhrah highlighted.

The counsellor emphasised that self-awareness, self-control and self-motivation are among the things to pay attention to in sequence in the midst of stress in completing assignments due to close deadlines.

Coping mechanisms were also brought up in dealing with emotional distress. One of them is cultivated by paying heed to one’s emotions and the problem simultaneously in a way that good analysis of the problem and emotions involved can lead to an effective solution in relieving the overbearing emotions caused by the problem. ***

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