By Venessa James
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – The hustle and bustle of urban life can actually take a toll on city folks’ mental health, experts said.
Compared to rural residents, they said that city dwellers are more likely to have mood disorders with higher rates of mental health conditions. In fact, many urbanites have been struggling to cope with the rising cost of living, especially post-COVID-19.
Psychiatrist and President of Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said maintaining a high standard of living and lifestyle could put pressure on city residents to earn significantly more than their rural counterparts, leading to poor financial management and debt accumulation.
“In the post COVID-19 scenario, urban residents are still trying to overcome job insecurities and high cost of living, which are likely to be the two main drivers of increased psychological stress in the urban population,” he told Bernama.
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa was quoted as saying last March that the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur has the highest number of depressed and anxious people in the country.
She said that a 2022 mental health screening on 336,900 individuals conducted by the ministry found that 70 per cent of FT residents are the most affected by depression and anxiety due to several factors including the high cost of living.
HIGH COST OF LIVING
Dr Zaliha also said the study revealed that the most vulnerable were those in the B40 group and the urban poor, noting that most mental health issues affecting teenagers and youth were due to financial and relationship problems.
Other factors include bullying, high risks behaviour, drug abuse, low self-esteem or having high expectations of oneself.
Concurring with Dr Mohanraj’s view, Bank Muamalat Bhd head of economics and social finance, Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid said that the cost of living is the key factor contributing to mental health issues in Kuala Lumpur since prices in urban areas are usually higher than other states in Malaysia.
“House rentals and prices of goods and services especially food related items are much higher. When the cost of living rises, the purchasing power of a household’s income will be reduced,” he said.
According to Malaysian digital property marketplace, Propertyguru.com the average difference of monthly rental for a terrace house in Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak is by RM200.
The National Institute of Health has said that in Malaysia, students' main source of stress comes from difficulties in concentrating on excessive information, the pressure of heavy workload as well as examinations that give them harmful health effects.
In June 2017, a depressed 20-year old student from Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TARUC), wrote a note to her mother saying that the pressure in her life was too much to handle before she committed suicide from a condominium in Setapak.
Commenting on this, Psychology Lecturer of Raffles College Kuala Lumpur Farhana Nabila Fakaruddin said that tough course subjects such as design courses or continuous theory assignments can cause students to become stressful which accelerates into depression or anxiety if it is not treated from the early stage.
“Besides educational stress, students who come from other states to Kuala Lumpur also have adjustment issues where they tend to feel lonely and anxious,” she told Bernama.
Farhana also said that some depressed and anxious patients immediately sought treatment from a psychiatrist instead of a counsellor or psychologist without realising that they have wrongly interpreted the online screen tests which may show results that they are in a severe stage.
“Normally psychiatrists will give the medications but they are only for severe levels and if the patients missed their medications, then the symptoms will get severe which may lead to suicidal thoughts, hearing voices or hallucinations,” she said.
AFFECTED CITIZENS, HOPES FOR CHANGE
Bernama also spoke to individuals who are currently experiencing depression and anxiety for their insights and concerns on the issue.
A 29-year old baker who requested anonymity shared that the actual causes for her anxiety and depression were from past bullying experiences from fellow peers and a teacher as well as unstable upbringing and body image issues.
“With us being in the rat race we catch ourselves with little breath as we try to keep up with everyone else, keeping tabs on our social lives, paying our bills and keeping family commitments and with this, we spiral into this deep hole of peer pressure and mental health issues.
“I appreciate what the government is doing and has yet to do, I would also really appreciate if they don’t criminalise those who attempted suicide and it's upsetting to see an individual at the end of their rope attempting suicide, gets talked out of it but to only be escorted away by policemen to the hospital for a mental evaluation,” she said.
Meanwhile, a former teacher Rukshan Gill said that pressure at work and the fear of not being able to have sufficient money to handle her commitments are the reasons that made her develop anxiety.
Rukshan said that she relies on her support system, her husband or friends who are supportive whenever she has an anxiety attack but she also expects the government and private sectors to go the extra mile in helping those with mental health issues.
“I hope that the government and private sectors can provide more affordable mental health sessions and make mental health part of insurance so that people can benefit from it,” she added.
Apart from the services provided by the government, a listener and supporter is another option to a person with depression or anxiety to find relief from their distressing minds but people have to learn about the seriousness of mental health issues at first.
Managing Director of The Inner Lynk Therapy and Wellness Centre Gianina Ginnie Kon said mental health cases are still on the rise due to stigma against people with abnormal conditions or disorders.
She said that lack of awareness, education, perception and a fear of people with mental illness can all lead to increased stigma, noting that it can prevent people living with mental illness from getting help, fitting into society and leading happy and comfortable lives.
Dr Zaliha said a total of 1,161 health clinics, 58 hospitals, 34 community mental health centres (MENTARI) and four mental institutions are available and are equipped for prevention, early detection and rehabilitation of mental health afflictions.
Edited by Salbiah Said