Growing up, I’ve never heard my parents, my friends or even my teachers ever talking about mental health. I was so unfamiliar with this concept that it had to completely consume me before I understood what it really meant. I can’t tell if it’s genetics or the piled up events that took place that triggered something in me, but suddenly my whole world changed.
The start of A-levels also unfortunately brought up the start of my depressive episodes. Everyone went into school with high hopes of earning scholarships that the government promised. As was I, but what I did not know was that at this point, I was already showing symptoms of depression.
While all my classmates were enjoying their best years going on school trips and class parties, I was completely detached and uninterested in any of the activities. I was either constantly studying the same chapters over and over again, or sleeping so often I couldn’t even remember being awake. Isn’t it weird how everyone in my family, including myself, thought this was just normal behaviour for an A-level student?
I was still completely oblivious to what was happening. After a long period of this repetitive process, in the middle of the year, I was finally starting to break the cycle. Believe it or not, I had to do this with no help. I started doing things to calm myself down.
Activities such as painting and reading became my own personal haven. It did not cure my depression, but it surely helped a lot. This was when it really hit me — this wasn’t just happening to me. A lot of us really were struggling so much mentally, but why was it so difficult to get any help?
Even after going through all that, I managed to get the scholarship I was studying so hard for and ended up coming to Malaysia. One of the first thoughts I had when leaving my country was that I’d finally get the chance to seek for the help I needed and get therapy; something that was almost non-existent in my own country. Little did I know, it was going to be the same case here in Malaysia too.
Where Do I Go, Who Should I Talk To?
During my first year, I can surely say that I hit the lowest point in my life. Doing everything and anything to fill the void, I still did not know how to reach out to anyone or find people I could turn to. I was lucky enough to have lecturers who truly cared for their students as they noticed my lack of interest in classes and that I wasn’t even putting any effort into making friends.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in an office talking about how much I was struggling for the first time in my life. This is how I came to discover that my University provides free counselling sessions for students.
Of course, it took me a whole year to actually sign up. Sometimes accepting that you have a problem is easier than working on making it better. And if you’re anything like me, reaching out to a stranger to tell them your biggest secrets can be extremely difficult.
This led me to discovering how hard getting help can be in a country like Malaysia. While there are places you could contact and reach out to, it often came with a long queue and a hefty price-tag.
The mediocre counselling I got in University amounted to so little, but it was still a privilege to get. I often wondered what happened to those who were not lucky enough to have access to even this much help. Who do they turn to?
What happens when you’ve received therapy but it wasn’t enough? What happens when you reach the point where you know there’s nothing left to do but seek help from a psychiatrist? Well, I reached this point really early during my counselling sessions.
When my mental illness started taking a toll on my day-to-day life and things started getting hazy, I knew that just talking was no longer helping. I needed medicine for the imbalance that was taking control of my life.
If you’ve ever reached out to make an appointment with a psychiatrist, you’ll know the struggle. Sometimes it takes days or even weeks to get an appointment. We can complain about it all we want, but it really shows the severity of the problem — there is a noticeable lack of help people can get. And there’s nothing any of us can do but wait for our turn, just like everyone else.
Why Is Everything So Expensive?
When you finally get around to making that appointment and getting that consultation, you’ll realise one thing for sure. It’s too expensive for most people to afford. It’s like a luxury that the normal working class person can’t bear to upkeep.
Personally, I can tell you that I spent close to RM200 on just the consultation. That’s just the least of the problems when you turn to professional help. If you get diagnosed with a mental illness and you’re required to take medicine for it, you’re in for a rough trip.
I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever spent so much money on medicine my entire life. Antidepressants alone cost me around RM400. How can a working class person afford this, let alone a student who is barely getting by?
In my case, the medicine wasn’t even available in the hospital that I was consulting at, so I had the added cost of travel expenses. I’m sure this isn’t something I solely faced.
While I understand that all medical help and procedures come at a price, I’m not sure I agree with the amount it takes on getting help for your mental health. It’s not like it’s any different from other conditions — if left untreated, it slowly gets worse and could end up costing you your life. Yet, getting the help you need feels like another added burden.
Getting treatment, at least in my case, meant that I had to budget everything else in my life. From the food I ate, to the social interactions I participated in. Soon enough, I was confined to my room, unable to afford to go out or eat a proper meal.
Taking pills and going to therapy did not help with my financial burdens. Someone who is already struggling with their day-to-day life really should not have to go through all that just to try to get better. It felt like I was giving up one thing to gain another. And it felt slow. And it felt pointless.
If I don’t have enough money for food, am I just giving myself another illness while trying to get rid of the current one?
No More Walk-In Therapy?
Did you know there is a thing called walk-in therapy? While you could be a walk-in patient at any clinic/hospital, usually you’d have to queue up and wait for all the other patients to be done before you get your turn.
But there are some hospitals that provide really good walk-in therapy sessions, where you don’t have to make appointments but you’re also not put last on the list. This is the perfect opportunity if you’re like me — too anxious to make appointments and do things impromptu!
Unfortunately, I got to know about this during the pandemic. It was the worst timing possible as all the psychiatrists were fully booked and my own counsellor wasn’t responding to me. I was hoping to just do walk-in therapy as a friend recommended it as an easier and more budget-friendly option. Who knew doing this from the very start could have saved me all that money?
The one place I got recommended to go was UMMC Hospital, but as there is an on-going pandemic, this service seems to no longer be available. While it is understandable that they want to take precautionary measures, it does make things harder. Especially during these tough times.
It had me thinking about whether reaching out to someone in Malaysia was becoming a hopeless case as well. While things are slowly getting better, we can hope for these walk-in therapy sessions to make a come-back as it seems to be one of the best options available out there.
You’re Not Alone!
After going through this process for three years, looking back, there are some things that I could have done in order to avoid all the hassle I went through. So, here are some tips for anyone that’s seeking any form of mental health help in Malaysia.
If you’re someone who deals with any kind of mental illness or stress, I would advise you to make your appointments in advance. One of the mistakes I made was waiting ‘til the last minute to try to make appointments — unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way!
Don’t Be Shy If Change Is Required
If you feel like your University counsellor or even your therapist is not the right fit for you, don’t hesitate to change to someone else. I know it’s super hard to switch therapists after a few sessions but you will be doing yourself a favour. Going to the same person when you know it’s not working would only lead to disappointment, so don’t stick around. There’s always someone who could be better for you!
Don’t Ditch Your Appointments
When you start getting help, the sessions might get overwhelming. The thoughts of ditching them would cross your mind, and it would feel like the easier option. Getting help is hard, but always remember it is for your long term well-being. So don’t miss out on your appointments, the counsellor/therapist might actually start to prioritise other patients if they feel like you’re not taking it seriously. Break the cycle of ditching and choose your long-term well-being over short-term comfort!
Taking It One Day At a Time
I can’t stress this enough: always remember to take things one day at a time. A lot of us have this tendency to try and fix everything in one go. This only causes more stress. You know that saying, “Rome was not built in a day”? Just the same, your mental health can’t be fixed in one therapy session. Always try to remember that it is a process and that it takes time, so be gentle with yourself.
Even after all the hurdles we went through last year, things are getting better again! While that may not necessarily be the case for everyone, always remember that there are several organisations you can reach out to when you’re at your low point. You really aren’t alone in this battle for better mental health — we’re all on this journey together.