Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Children and Young People in Malaysia

By Cathryn Anila

The Covid-19 global pandemic has drastically affected the lives of many globally, children and youth included. The lockdown has had a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. In the context of Malaysia, the pandemic has opened up conversations around the topic of mental health, which has always been a somewhat taboo topic.

I conducted a survey to further understand the current state of mental health and wellbeing of Malaysian children and youth. There were 123 respondents, aged between 5 and 25 years old. One of the survey findings demonstrate that an alarming 1 in 5 youth have had suicidal ideation and/or thoughts. This statistic alone is enough to prove the importance of discussing and addressing mental health issues.

Out of the 123 respondents, 84 (68.3%) identified as females, 34 (27.6%) identified as males and 5 (4.1%) chose not to identify with either sexes. The survey’s findings are biased toward the older children and youth as 93.5% of respondents (115 people) are aged 16 to 25 years old whereas only 8 respondents (6.5%) are aged 5 to 15 years old. 69 respondents (56.1%) are from urban residential developments, 38 (30.9%) from the suburban areas, 5 (4.1%) from the exurban areas and 11 (8.9%) from rural residential areas.

96 respondents (78%) have identified themselves with not having any form of disability, 10 (8.1%) have identified with having a form of disability and 17 respondents (13.8%) chose not to specify. As for living conditions, 96 respondents (78%) live with both parents, 15 (12.2%) live with a single parent, 9 (7.3%) live on their own and, 1 with parents who are divorced, 1 in a rental house and 1 with parents and grand relatives.

Based on this survey, the top three symptoms or conditions that the respondents see in themselves are stress (62.6%), lack of motivation (61%), and fear and anxiety (53.7%). The other symptoms or conditions that the respondents have are mood problems (52%), concerns about the self (44.7%), anger problems (43.9%), addictive behaviours (26.8%), eating behaviours (25.2%), suicidal ideation and/or attempts (20.3%), substance abuse (7.3%) and 11.4% of unidentified symptoms or conditions.

When asked what they think may be the potential causes for what and how they feel, 82 respondents (66.7%) chose personal life, family and relationships, 65 respondents (52.8%) chose life events, 51 respondents (41.5%) chose financial issues, 48 respondents (39%) chose the Covid-19 pandemic, 31 respondents (25.2%) chose traumatic events, 25 respondents (20.3%) chose health issues, 7 respondents (5.7%) chose smoking, drinking, gambling and drug abuse, 7 respondents (5.6%) chose education, and 1 each for global events in general, worried of self and overthinking.

Data on mental health should not be limited to just the causes and effects, but we should also look at how it is being addressed, or at the very least, being acknowledged. As for the last question in the survey, the respondents were asked about what they have done to address what they are feeling and going through. A whopping 64.2% of respondents admitted to just distracting themselves and 14.6% admitted to doing nothing at all. 54 respondents (43.9%) have friends and / or support groups in which they can confide in, 49 respondents (39.8%) focus their energies on their physical health by doing yoga and / or working out, 43 respondents (35%) turn to practices for mindfulness such as yoga, meditation and journaling, 40 respondents (32.5%) have sought professional help such as going for therapy or meeting a councillor, 14 respondents (11.4%) have called helplines such as Childline 15999, Befrienders, Buddy Bear and more, 10 respondents (8.1%) take medication, 4 respondents (3.2%) turn to God, and the rest reflect on themselves, express it by crying it out, do the things they love / their hobbies and entertain themselves with reading, movies and shows.

The Movement Control Order (MCO) has indeed brought about an overwhelmingly abrupt change in lifestyle for everyone, and the findings on the declining mental health among children and youth is heart-breaking. However, it is heart-warming to see many arise in response to the pandemic, such as the professionals in the healthcare services, or just individuals in general seeking to share more kindness, empathy and love with others. I ardently hope that mental health will no longer be a taboo topic, and that it will no longer be dismissed as invalid. Rather, the understanding that mental health exists for everyone and that mental illnesses are real and valid should be acknowledged and addressed through the right channels.