The Star, 18 May 2022 :
Try not to play the therapist I CAUGHT up with a friend for coffee recently, and we had great fun sharing memories of the wonderful times we spent together in the past. And then she quietly admitted to me that she was seeing a clinical therapist for her anxiety issues. I was shocked, as my awareness of mental health issues, therapies and treatments until then was mainly from movies that depicted psychotic villains and so on.But sitting in front of me was one of the most vibrant and easy-going women I have ever known in my life! What could be bothering her so much that she had to seek professional help? I had so many questions in my mind, but I did not say anything as I didn’t want to upset her.So all I asked was: “Tell me, how can I help you as a friend in this particular journey of yours?”She thanked me for not trying to offer any advice. “You have no idea about the frustration I feel when people ask me to just take a break or go eat my favourite food, take a nap, exercise and so on. Don’t they think I know all that? Don’t they think I’ve tried all that? It just does not work that way,” she said. She then.described her anxiety symptoms, triggers and the aftermath of the attacks. She even related her experience with clinical therapy, and how a real professional has been helping her to process her suppressed emotions, childhood trauma and much more. The thing that changed her life was taking the first step and going to a psychiatry clinic where she signed up to talk to a complete stranger about her deepest fears and problems. Besides the shock, I also felt pity for her initially. But an hour later, I realised that I was having coffee with one of the strongest women I have ever known! A small part of me changed that day as well because I have been paying more attention to news and articles about mental health since then.I’ve read that three in 10 adults aged 16 years and above in Malaysia suffer from some form of mental health issues (according to the latest National Health and Morbidity Survey). What I am trying to say is, let’s not try to play therapist to our family and friends when they tell you that they are going through depression or anxiety. They already know that they need to sleep well, eat good food and exercise regularly.All they need is emotional support. Try to just spend some quality time with them, doing something that works for both of you, when they reach out.There is no point in trying to pressure them to face their realities when they are not ready. Just let them be. In the meantime, build up your mental health awareness so that when your family or friends reach out to you, you can be there for them in ways that do not worsen their condition.And who knows, in doing so, you might discover that you yourself may have some underlying mental health issue that you need to work on.
Dr. Sarala Thulasi Palpanadan
Center for Language Studies
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)