Once again, amidst a raging global pandemic and in the face of major changes happening in our country, Malaysians are rising up to the occasion in true Malaysia boleh (can-do) spirit to move forward. Even so, it would be a gross exaggeration that all is well with everyone going by the rising number of clients walking in for counselling to preserve their mental health and general wellbeing.
Allow me to share some of the more recent phenomena seen during this pandemic.
First, the positives. Thankfully we haven’t seen elevated levels of stress associated with racism or xenophobia related to virus-related misinformation like in some parts of the world. And Malaysians have displayed tremendous mental resilience aided by not least some very infectious (pun not intended) wit and humour.
Struggles and challenges faced by my clients are broad-based depending on age, developmental levels in life-span terms and their economic stability.
For instance, younger children seem to struggle with maintaining constant levels of focus and attention required to sustain online learning and as a result alarmed parents have been getting in touch on how to maintain accountability towards learning in their kids.
Teenagers have been showing a great deal of existential angst stemming from all sorts of future plans which are now in a state of flux and with very little sense of direction on how to proceed with their lives. Adults seem to suffer from increased levels of economic distress which have morphed into anxiety, depression, sleep & eating disorders and health conditions. Then, for the elderly there is an elevated sense of impending doom given that they are more susceptible to illnesses and this is compounded by actually seeing their friends dying. Across the board, responses to stress seem to have worsened especially amongst those who lack support.
Grief and loss are being experienced for different reasons – loss of freedom for young children as their movements and socialisation are curtailed, loss of dreams for young people on the cusp of further education and employment, loss of economic opportunities for adults and loss of safety, health & friends for the elderly.
And where there are individuals, regardless of age, who have experienced the deaths of loved ones during this very trying time, there is a struggle to maintain composure and positivity because normal rituals and routines related to passing on have to be suspended. Many countries, ours included, have restricted the number of people who can come together in bereavement and family & friends may be prohibited from paying their last respects. As a result, pandemic related restrictions mean that we have all had to learn how to grieve in other ways as we honour our dead and come to terms with their passing.
This article is not meant to perpetuate dread but rather is in response to queries that have made their way to me, either through people I have spoken with or my clients who have walked through my doors and in online sessions. It is meant to acknowledge struggles & to offer hope, to educate & to empower, to reach out & to support. Together we are stronger.
In the next article, we will address some frequently asked questions and other queries that have come my way recently. Stay tuned.
Heeran Kaur is a Malaysia-based counsellor and therapist. The lawyer-turned-mental health advocate had presented a paper on her research on Sikhs at the International Seminar of Counselling and Well-Being (ISCWB 2020), organised by Universiti Malaya, in November 2020. She can be contacted at email@example.com or +6016-3359209
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