PETALING JAYA: Mental health experts have called on medical workers to consider the psychological wellbeing of their patients, warning that stress can negatively affect physical health.
Speaking to FMT in conjunction with World Mental Health Day, the Malaysian Mental Health Association’s (MMHA) president Dr Andrew Mohanraj said there had been increasing number of calls for healthcare workers to consider mental health when treating physical symptoms of a condition.
Mohanraj explained that the hormone corticosteroid, which is released during periods of stress, can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system.
“When we’re stressed the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. This is why we are susceptible to infections,” he said. “Stress induces chronic immune activation seen in chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.”
He said those in stressful situations could also develop psychogenic fever, which is not treated with routine anti-fever medication but with anti-anxiety and sedative medications as well as psychotherapy instead.
Mohanraj added that MMHA had seen “more than a two-fold increase” in cases seeking counselling since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, most of which had concerns related to stress.
Meanwhile, Dr Goh Chee Leong, the Malaysian Psychological Association’s former president, said this was because many Malaysians had experienced high pressure situations following lockdown restrictions.
He predicted that the recent surge in Covid-19 cases would further impact people’s mental wellbeing, and consequently their physical health.
“Uncertainty about their financial security, their studies and their limited interactions with friends and family certainly will increase their stress levels,” he told FMT.
London College of Clinical Hypnosis Asia principal Sheila Menon said while everyone would experience stress at some point in their lives, people aged 24 to 39 were more likely to suffer from stress-related conditions.
“As companies struggle to stay productive, the pressure on this group will increase as they are often responsible for the financial stability of their children and parents.”
Sheila noted that female domestic helpers, a group that often went unnoticed, were also likely to stop menstruating for six to nine months when they first come to Malaysia because the stress of adapting to a new environment affected their reproductive hormones.
She said such long-term stress could have a “disastrous impact” on the body and health.
Besides contributing to premature coronary artery disease and higher risk of heart attacks, she said there was evidence that stress could affect the way people aged, even impacting the DNA.
She urged the public not to ignore initial signs of stress and to invest more time in caring for their mental health.
“We can do this by regularly exercising, creating balance in our lives, going for yoga, tai chi or using self-hypnosis.
“In fact, taking a break for just two minutes, or 10 minutes self-hypnosis, or just 20 minutes of regular walking can help to manage the impact of short-term stress and reduce all the symptoms.”