Man at His Best

The Mental State Of Malaysia: On Depression

A brief look into the definition of depression, the effects and how society react towards it.

BY Sim Wie Boon | Nov 5, 2016 | Fitness & Health

Illustration by Rebecca Chew

As a part of our October issue's mental health feature, we briefly delved into a few mental health disorders that has been plaguing Malaysians but often is dismissed. In the first part of the feature, we took a general view over mental health as a whole and why it usually goes undiagnosed by many. Following up to that, we looked at anxiety and what it's all about. For this part, we look at depression and its effects. 

Many people think that having depression is the same as being depressed. While one can be depressed at any given moment, to fall into the category of clinical depression is an entirely different thing. More often than naught, people resort to self diagnoses when they say they are depressed.

“Straight off the bat, they go online, do some test and say ‘oh I’m depressed’. They don’t realise how important it is to get professional help,” Befriender's publicity director, Ardy Baggio says.

Yes, one can be sad but to be depressed, that is an entirely different category.

According to deputy president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, to have clinical depression, it usually begins with someone experiencing a low mood for two weeks or so.

“The body experiences low levels of anhedonia which means the loss of interest in pleasurable activities in life. They become disinterested in many things. Other symptoms include poor or excessive sleep, waking up in the middle of the night or early morning and just stare at the ceiling not knowing what to do, low libido, easily getting irritated and angry for no reason. With that comes poor appetite and loss of weight.”

The final progression for severe depression will manifest as having death wishes which might slowly lead to suicidal thoughts.

“At first, they do not plan to kill themselves but are okay with dying. For example someone with a death wish would say, ‘If I go to sleep today and don’t wake up its okay,’ Why should anybody think like that? If you go sleep wanting to die, this is something we need to think about because the next step would be planning it yourself,” notes Dr Andrew.

Without professional help, there is no way to mitigate or as Dr Andrew puts it, intervene the mood disorder in order to improve it.

But a big challenge remains as mood disorders like depression tend to be thought of as a sign of weakness in the Asian society. This largely contributes to preventing people from seeking help as they look at it like it’s a sign defect in ones’ personality.

We in our own expect people who are depressed to snap out of it just like that because we think they are making a fuss about nothing.

"This can be a very damaging train of thought especially when it leads to caregivers or family members who refuse to believe that their ward has depression because they think that they are making a fuss or as the Malay language puts it mengada-ada," says Dr Andrew.

There can be many factors which contribute to developing depression within the individual’s mind. Dr Andrew puts forth the fact that in this day and age, the breakdown of a traditional nuclear family structure is more common which has create a void in a stable support system. 

Apart from that, high levels of stress for children to excel in their studies and young adults to succeed in their careers in such a competitive environment has lead to a rise in the numbers of people exhibiting depression like behaviour. The lack of understanding and a vital support system as well as a society that views mental illness and ailments such as depression creates for a less than friendly environment that perpetuates such conditions.

“Urbanisation has caused a great deal of stress on young couples unable to cope with their demands and yet they are supposed to fulfil their roles as young parents much different from those days. What’s important at the end of the day is seeking professional help. The general consensus is that if you are depressed, you should be institutionalised or be on medication but Dr Andrew notes that this is a common misunderstanding.

“Yes for serious cases, anti depressants are prescribed and even electro convulsive therapy may be needed for treatment but more commonly, it’s just counselling and/or psychotherapy to correct the negative though patterns and maladaptive behaviours.”

Misconceptions and misinterpretation of depression is rampant not just here but everywhere else as well. More often than naught, it is easier to pass something off when you don't see it, something that 'happens in your head' so to speak. However, these dismisals lead towards more serious problems. Which is why, society as a whole needs to be educated and more aware of the subtleties and signs of mental illness. Everyone needs to realise that such conditions are not the fault of anyone but biological ailments that require proper support, monitoring and treatment. 


If you ever need help or someone to talk to, here are some people that would be happy to listen:

(Befrienders 03-79568144 / 03-79568145,  Lifeline Association of Malaysia 03-42657995, Malaysian Mental Health Association 03-77825499, National Urgent Response 03-22662222)

First published in Esquire Malaysia, October 2016.