Malaysian Psychiatric Doctor Shares Signs Your Loved Ones Are Struggling

We’re suddenly finding ourselves out in the world again. While our time in quarantine may now seem to have passed in the blink of an eye for some, some may have found it going by painfully slowly. This is because of the emotional burden of having so much going on (work and home responsibilities on top of the emotional rollercoaster that is being human) that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our lives. It is imperative that we continue to watch out for each other in the days to come, as we have thus far. #KitaJagaKita is just as important now as it was when we first found ourselves dealing with this invisible foe.


We’ve contacted Dr. Kanchan Thadani from the psychiatry unit of Hospital Kuala Lumpur to help us understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on our psyche and the best way to continue dealing with them –


1. What are some of the responses that you’ve seen manifest as a result of the outbreak?

Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

Patients with pre-existing conditions such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders
  • Depression

have come in with complaints of worsening symptoms. Those with neurotic disorders see their fears manifest in all the news circulating with regards to the virus. They also see an increase in their compulsions as they ruminate more over them (such as repetitive hand washing). Those with chronic illnesses such as Schizophrenia see themselves on the verge of relapse due to financial constraints that came along with the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO). A change in their normal routines also causes restlessness in some.



2. What about the effects of the pandemic on health care workers?

The initial response for most was shock and fear – a natural response to an unfamiliar situation. Health care workers (HCW) are only human, and they too fear the unknown. A lot of what we experience also centre around anxiety and fear but this is coupled with the fear that we could be bringing the virus home with us. Hence some health care workers choose to stay separately from their families, and this would cause them to feel alone and isolated. Helplessness, insomnia, and burnout were also some of the responses we have seen more so in the frontliners. However, with the recent drop in numbers and their displays of courage, optimism, selflessness and determination to fight this pandemic battle is paying off and although we aren’t out of the woods yet, it is definitely a good morale boost for them. 



 3. What are some of the changes we should watch out for in our friends and loved ones that indicate that they are dealing with the emotional/psychological effects of COVID-19 and the movement control order?

Some changes that we need to look out for would be:

  • low mood
  • reduced pleasure in a previously pleasurable activity
  • suicidal thoughts
  • fatigue
  • helplessness
  • irritability
  • constant muscle aches
  • constant worry.

If you do see these symptoms, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. There are many ways you could get the desired help; be it from doctors or dedicated helplines to get you through this tough time.


4. Does social media have more of an effect on our mental health than we realise?

Social media can be a boon or a bane depending on how you look at it. It can be a great tool to enhance one’s knowledge about the Covid-19 pandemic. With knowledge comes power. The power to learn about the illness and being aware of it can reduce one’s anxiety and fears about it. However, on the other hand, reading too much news about the illness can take a toll on one’s mental health. This is especially true when reading mainly negative stories, fake news, and unreliable information about the illness. This will only create fear, doubt and worsen the stigma surrounding this illness. For HCW’s, it gives us both an awareness of the outside world – especially to those working on the frontlines on long, unforgiving shifts with little time for sleep, much less anything else. Hence, social media provides a form of light entertainment to take the load off and reduce their mental burden.


5. What is your advice for ensuring we take the necessary steps to give ourselves and the people around us the best, most conducive environment to properly take care of our mental health?

Photo by Michelle, Unsplash

My advice would be to stay focused on maintaining social distancing and hygiene. At the same time, engaging in activities that you’ve previously never had the time to do before would be a great step. Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to too much news about the pandemic. Take care of your body by eating healthy food, doing exercise at home and getting plenty of sleep. For those who are observing Ramadan practices, ensuring that they get they eat well and keep hydrated when at suhur and iftar is more important than ever as the stress of being at home can have adverse effects on their health. Now is the best time to facetime and reconnect to friends and family that you didn’t have time to keep in touch with before. Do frequent check-ins on each other. And finally, this would be the best time to practise gratitude as well as asking yourself what you can do to help others that are in need.