In our Asian culture, we are often expected to stoically bear with the tribulations of life. One is expected to grit his teeth and brace the storms that hit in life and weather them. It was a subject that people didn’t really talk about because there is often a stigma that is attached to it.
One area that Covid-19 has hit close to many is mental health. We’ve read in the news how the number of suicides rose as the pandemic wore on. It is one of the more insidious effects of the virus, one that is indirect rather than direct, a result of the squeezing out the normal out of our lives. It changes our outlook of life, allows fear to fester and grow and make us think of the worse. And when it keeps going on with no end in sight, our minds crumble and our self is stripped away, leaving us vulnerable.
I’ve seen my share of mental health issues and how it tears away the veneer of things that holds the self. When that happens, layers of vulnerabilities show and eats us from inside.
Reasons for derailment
Fears and worries are usually the main culprits. As we grow older, some of us fear being left alone. We worry about our children not having time for us. We fear old age itself, growing feeble, the loneliness and debilitating illnesses. And of course, death which is the ultimate unknown. And these affect our mental health in small and big ways.
Sometimes, the worries are exacerbated by the loss of a spouse, child and loved ones. Sometimes a combination of all those become a trigger point. We sink into sorrows and lose our wills. Very often, life might seem not worth continuing. Yet others lose their mental health because of the loss of a job or position. Many of us attach our confidence and value to our jobs. Hence, many sink into depression upon retirement too. However, at the height of the pandemic, loss of jobs caused many to take their lives.
The self usually is able to handle the crises that enter our lives through various mechanisms. However, sometimes, when one after another storm hits and then compounded by other external factors such as the pandemic, we crumble because the support and the confidence that stem from being productive and also the isolation are taken away. The frustrations leads to withdrawal into self and low self worth ensues. Prolonged, this can never be good for our mental health.
There is never an easy answer to this. For me, I’ve come to realise that the line that separates sanity from insanity is just one fine line. It is easy to tip from the former to the latter but not so when reversed. The balancing act is one that juggles our whole being back and forth ever so often. And sometimes, one or more mechanisms that help us balance go missing and that becomes the starting point of a derailment. So what should we do?
Where do we go from there?
The first I believe is the support. We are social creatures. As such we need the power of support. A get-together of any form is crucial. Hence, going to the masjid, church or temple is one of those things that gives us that support. It helps preserve the mental health. Even hanging out for a birthday celebration, or even just over a cuppa at the cafe become a safety net of sorts. All these were readily available in the past when life was less complex and communities were more cohesive.
Another thing that we should look into is that of community living in establishments like the retirement homes and condominiums. Living in landed properties these days, especially in middle income areas and above now seem to create isolationism. Everyone is just too busy with their lives.
Gone are the days when neighbours come out in the evenings and chat. Even in sleepy Alor Setar, you don’t see neighbourhood kids out playing together much in the evenings. One wonders too if this will impact the mental health of these young ones too.
Next, for those around the depressed, keep trying to draw them out. A depressed mind often turns into a labyrinth of maze which the sufferer cannot navigate his way out. Falling into depression can be debilitating. One not only loses one’s mind but also one’s life in extreme cases. For those who recover, the road to recovery is often a long and winding one, and often also very trying on the family.
There are many other advice that one can find from the many sites dedicated to helping us keep our mental health. However, one final thing which I can think of is the self. We need to be aware the problem and pitfalls. Hence, the self must also be on the watch. It is okay to take a break from the expectations from the people around you whenever there is a need to do so. One of the pitfalls is always giving too much that we sometimes do not have any reserve left for ourselves.
At any first signs should be dealt with. Seek help. See a doctor. Take medications if prescribed. Sometimes, such early interventions can prevent a further slide into the unending abyss. But above all too, we should learn to identify signs of such problems in people around us. Never ever assume that your once upon very reliable and strong parent, for example will never fall prey to this. There is much that can be done.
The mind is the temple of our existence. Take away the mind and everything we know about the world becomes a blur image. Similarly too, the people we know become a very pale shadow of incomprehensible self to us too. It can be a very debilitating experience for both the patient and caregiver. But like many things, there many things we can try to preserve our mental health too.