Mercy Malaysia, Health Ministry start free mental health hotline to ease Covid-19 lockdown emotional trauma

Mercy Malaysia’s hotline aims to help people release their anxiety during the Covid-19 shutdown. — Picture by Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash via Reuters
Mercy Malaysia’s hotline aims to help people release their anxiety during the Covid-19 shutdown. — Picture by Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash via Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — As the country continues to be on a pause for the next 18 days, volunteer relief organisation, Mercy Malaysia, has set up a free and dedicated mental health hotline to provide emotional support.

The support line, which was set up with the Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), aims to give everyone access to qualified mental health first aiders and offer practical support to those who need help in dealing with their anxiety during the Covid-19 shutdown until April 14.

It is led by Mercy Malaysia exco member Dr Hariyati Shahrima Abdul Majid who heads the mental health and psychosocial support team, along with Health Ministry mental health unit (Disease Control Division) public health specialist Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim.

With the growing uncertainty of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic situation and the restriction of movement, Mercy Malaysia programme development and operation general manager Said Alhudzari Ibrahim said they realised there was growing anxiety among the public to get information.

“Therefore, we decided to establish the Psychological First Aid Hotline to provide a safe and confidential platform for people affected by the pandemic to share their anxiety and problems with professionals who are trained to manage mental health issues,” he added.

Said also said the hotline was a non-clinical service for the public and aimed to support the ministry in addressing the mental health issue since most of the ministry’s counsellors have been assigned to hospitals to support the frontline medical staff.

“Psychological first aid is the first line of services we try to provide for people with anxiety or requiring some basic emotional support.

“However, specialised cases that may require further attention will be provided with referral options,” he added.

The hotline will be staffed by 19 psychosocial volunteers from Mercy Malaysia and 10 counsellors from the Health Ministry.

they will be on standby on a rotational basis.

“When someone calls the hotline, the call will be transferred to our pool of psychosocial volunteers, and whoever is available will take the call to provide the necessary support.”

Said also assured that all the assigned volunteers manning the hotline were qualified psychosocial practitioners with many years of experience under their belt.

“Many of them have been part of disaster relief operations in other countries such as the Philippines and Bangladesh, while others were involved in the MH370 incident, providing psychosocial support to Malaysia Airlines.”

Apart from the hotline, Mercy Malaysia has also kicked off daily Facebook live videos to highlight various topics of mental health during the movement control order, which has been extended until April 14 in a bid to contain the spread of the virus in Malaysia.

When asked about the aspiration behind advocating mental health alongside disaster relief efforts, Said said the idea was to break the stigma surrounding mental illness which is still perceived as something negative in Malaysia.

“People seeking mental health services are still being stigmatised.

“However, we realised that in this kind of situation this is the kind of support that the public may need after they have taken all the measures to reduce their risk.

According to him, Mercy Malaysia has two main advantages — experience and resources — which can potentially help them spearhead such initiatives.

“Our experience stems from our 20 years of humanitarian work, where we are exposed to international standards and trends.

“We know that there is an increasing need in mental health support in the society,” he added.

At present, Said said they receive over 50 calls daily and expect the numbers to rise as more people come to know about the service.

The 2017 National Health and Morbidity Survey reported that 29 per cent of Malaysians have depression and anxiety disorder.

Other reports also projected that mental illness will become the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart disease this year.

The support line operates from 9am until 5pm daily at 03-2935 9935.

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