‘More needs to be done for mental health’

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PETALING JAYA: While the Talian Kasih hotline made it easier for Malaysians to reach out to counselling services, more is still needed to help the people in the tough times ahead, say experts.

Counsellor Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan said Talian Kasih would not be enough in the long run, especially if the country were to go into a financial crisis.

The psychology programme director at Taylor’s University said past financial crisis had shown that many needed more than phone counselling.

“What is probably coming is an economic crisis and from what we have seen in the past (when a big economic crisis hit), suicide rates went up among older people who lost their jobs and couldn’t feed their families.

“Phone counselling will not be enough,” she said, adding that there needed to be a more holistic approach to address the psychological well-being of Malaysians.

“There will be individuals in crisis who will need to talk face to face.

“It would be ideal if the government set up (more) accessible community centres where these individuals can get face-to-face counselling and at the same time be able to access other services such as government agencies that can give them a part-time job,” she said.

Dr Anasuya said these centres should ideally be set up at LRT or MRT stations for easier access.

Early Childhood Care and Education Council president Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng said the reason for a spike in calls in April was because the government had not thought of the psychological implications of the MCO.

She said, for example, the government had overlooked the psychological needs of those in the bottom 40 group who tended to have more children and all were expected to share the same small, enclosed area (for a long period of time).

“We have also not looked into implications for people whose income would suddenly become zero such as contract workers,” she said.

Dr Chiam noted that many contract workers had zero income during the MCO period and with this came anxiety and depression – which were coupled with the stress of having to entertain children in a small space.

This, she said, would make the instances of domestic violence higher and while counselling would help, the root cause of the issue needed to be addressed.

She suggested for Talian Kasih to act upon domestic violence calls it received by sending the Welfare Department (JKM) officers to the homes concerned.

“Because for children, if the abuse is not addressed, the risk of becoming abusers when they grow up is there,” she added.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) said there was a need for the government to institute more longer-term reforms, especially for the vulnerable such as women facing domestic abuse.

WAO senior research and advocacy officer Yap Lay Sheng said the government needed to improve the availability of temporary shelters for those facing domestic abuse situations and to classify these shelters as an essential service.

“Shelters are a lifeline to survivors, yet they are sorely lacking in Malaysia. International best practices recommend a minimum of one family place in a women’s shelter per 10,000 people, but Malaysia only has an estimated one family place per 72,538 people,” he said.

Yap added that one of the biggest issues during the pandemic was the distribution of the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN) cash aid.

“Cash transfer programmes that the government designs (will) have a huge impact on gender equality within the household.

“As the BPN payments were automatically credited into the accounts of ‘heads of households’ registered with National Population and Family Development Board, this effectively disenfranchised a lot of women and children in abusive households.

“We need to design these cash transfer programmes to involve a direct transfer component that is gender-neutral,” he said.



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