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    Self-care, support during stressful times

    Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj

    ANN/THE STAR – Family gatherings during festive occasions, such as reunion dinners, can be beneficial in many ways.

    For example, these gatherings can create and reinforce strong familial bonds, which may lead to increased cooperation, understanding and trust between family members. They can also provide an opportunity for family members to learn and share valuable information about themselves and each other.

    On the other hand, from a psychological perspective, family reunions can also be uncomfortable for some.

    There is a chance that familial rivalries may be further exacerbated during such gatherings, leading to unpleasantness.

    Even if that is not the case, family members may be overwhelmed by the amount of stress experienced during these events, causing feelings of anxiety and exhaustion.

    This is especially true when young people are questioned on academic achievements, marital prospects, and even body image.

    Invariably, relatives tend to ask well-meaning, but intrusive personal questions.

    A good way to handle such a situation is to explain your boundaries politely, but firmly.

    For example, you could say, “I appreciate your interest in my life, but I prefer to keep some things private.”

    However, in an Asian culture such as ours, it may be easier said than done. You could also redirect the conversation to a different subject to avoid the uncomfortable questions.

    Additionally, it can be helpful to practice calming activities before these anticipated questions to help manage stress or anxiety.

    The best way to maintain good mental health and emotional stability during family gatherings is to practice self-care.

    This can include taking time to rest and relax, or engaging in calming activities such as meditation or exercise. It is advisable to take a calculated approach in avoiding conflict with family members.

    Additionally, it can be helpful to stay connected with friends and loved ones outside of the family gathering. This may even be the support network to turn to when feeling overwhelmed.

    If conflicts do occur despite such precautions, it is important to remain open-minded and take the time to discuss the issues in a respectful manner.

    It can help to avoid placing blame and focus instead on finding common ground.

    Additionally, it can be helpful to take some time for yourself afterwards to process any residual negative emotions.

    To maintain bonding, it can be helpful to be determined to have only positive interactions and to avoid bringing up past grievances. It is also important to remember that family celebrations are a special time to enjoy being with loved ones and can be a rare opportunity to have delightful conversations and create meaningful memories.


    It isn’t only those gathering for family reunions who have been under stress; those in politics are likely also facing significant psycho-logical pressure.

    To maintain mental well-being, it is important to take some time away from the public spotlight to rest, recuperate and recharge.

    It is also helpful to consciously prioritise self-care, by engaging in activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to the individual, such as spending time with loved ones.

    A support network of trusted friends and family is crucial, or at times, even the help of mental health professionals who can offer advice from an objective point of view.

    It is important to be aware of the mental health benefits that come with working on meaningful causes or sticking to important core values, as this can help to provide motivation and resilience in the face of criticism or challenges.


    In January, Malaysia’s National Coalition for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW) hosted a well-attended national conference with the theme “Preserving Mental Health in a Crisis”.

    One of the interesting topics discussed was leadership in mental health. Leadership in mental health is about advocacy, connection and collaboration, which builds upon the experiential, philosophical and scientific approaches to mental health.

    It attempted to bring together diverse stakeholders to identify, develop and implement evidence- based solutions to mental health needs. This includes vision and strategy, shared decision-making and sustainable engagement for attitudinal change towards mental health issues.

    In this context, NCMW reaffirmed its call to have a representative for mental health in the Dewan Negara to ensure that the voices of mental health organisations can be effectively heard.

    The designated individual, ideally a content expert, can help ensure that the rights and needs of those with mental health issues are given due consideration, by raising awareness of mental health issues in Malaysian Parliament, debating on policies to better address the needs of those affected and advocating for the mental well-being of Malaysians.

    Such an individual can also help to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and help create an environment where people can get support they need without hesitation.

    NCMW chairperson Siti Subaidah Mustaffa was reported as saying: “It is important that we have a mental health advocate in the Dewan Negara.

    “We need to have a resource within the senate to focus on mental health.

    “Otherwise we are operating in silos and each group – each NGO and government agency – has its own agenda without looking at the big picture.”

    This call for representation is also on the premise that mental health cannot be viewed from a purely medical perspective.

    While the Malaysian Health Ministry is responsible for mental health programmes, there are many other determinants of mental health that require attention, understanding and action to ensure the best outcomes for mental health in the country.

    Mental health involves factors such as access to education, employment, housing, interpersonal relationships and social connectedness.

    Without such considerations, mental health services and programmes may fail to adequately address not only the needs of individuals who suffer from mental health issues, but also societal well-being in general.


    The mission must be for a truly multidisciplinary approach in mental health service that can help to ensure comprehensive and effective care for individuals with mental health issues.

    Besides psychiatrists and mental health nurses, there is a clear role for other professionals in mental health, such as clinical psychologists, counsellors and hypno-therapists.

    With adequate upskilling, the neighbourhood general practitioner or company panel doctor should also be able to offer appropriate support.

    In addition, mental health advocates, service users and their families should have an important role in providing insight into implementation of mental health services.

    Information about their experiences, as well as their expectations, can be invaluable.

    It is essential to hear the voices of all stakeholders in the national mental health landscape so as to ensure the provision of the best possible care for those affected.

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