Worries over MCO see Malaysians searching for a friendly ear

In some states, more people are registering concern over the movement control order.

KOTA KINABALU: Anxiety over the movement control order (MCO) which took effect on March 18 and was recently extended by two weeks to mid-April has seen more people in search of a listening ear, even though this may not necessarily resolve their concerns.

Support group Befrienders said it had received an increase in communication from some states since the directive was implemented in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.

From housewives to students, engineers to bankers, people have been reaching out to its call centres or communicating through social media.

Sabah, Johor and Negeri Sembilan in particular have recorded a jump in communication, according to Befrienders Malaysia national president Esther Smiling, who runs the Johor Bahru centre.

On a normal day, the centre receives a call every half an hour, but now about three calls come in within 30 minutes, she said.

She told FMT that the centre currently receives an average of 60 calls a day, two-thirds of which are related to the MCO.

“There have been some calls on Covid-19 specifically, but the majority of calls are from people who are anxious over the order and its effects on them.

“Since the announcement of the MCO extension, callers are more anxious than before,” she said.

Befrienders Malaysia National president Esther Smiling.

The MCO was originally scheduled to end on March 31. However, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said this week that it would be extended until April 14.

Smiling said the volunteers at her centre had been attending to calls “non-stop” to the point where it was difficult even to take a toilet break.

Callers’ concerns include worries over setting up medical appointments, anxiety over financial issues due to the inability to work, and restlessness over movement restrictions.

Smiling said some with a history of mental issues were also concerned about the possibility of a relapse.

“We do our best to ease their concerns and advise them to seek immediate medical attention if things do not improve, while taking all precautionary measures to avoid infection,” she said.

“Everyone is adjusting (to the MCO) and some are stressed.

“But during this period, people who call us are just happy to know that we are open for them to talk to.”

In Sabah, the group’s publicity director in Kota Kinabalu, Jessie Yong, said there were generally two types of callers: those with a history of mental illness and those without.

People with mental health issues are normally under medication and could have major depressive disorders, causing them to be more anxious than others, she said.

“We tell them to stay away from social media, and we always have a safety plan: they need to have their doctor’s number and know where to go if they have suicidal thoughts.”

Yong’s volunteers communicate with people mostly through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and email. They are for the most part senior citizens and retirees.

“On average, we’ve been getting 11 to 13 WhatsApp chats every night since the MCO started, which is an increase for us.

Befrienders Kota Kinabalu publicity director Jessie Yong.

“About three-quarters of these people have mental health issues,” she said.

Callers without mental health problems are usually concerned over their lack of work, financial difficulties, feelings of isolation, the fear of contracting the virus, and panic buying.

“We’ve spoken to housewives, students, construction workers, engineers and bank staff.

“One person told us that his boss told him to work during the MCO, and that he was really angry. In matters like this, we have a list ready for people to call, like the Labour Department and other agencies to source for information.”

Yong said she and her volunteers “deal with feelings and emotions”, not the actual solutions to callers’ predicaments.

“We try to empower them to resolve these and move on with their lives.”

She advised those affected by the MCO not to isolate themselves but to speak with loved ones or people they trust.

“If that is not doable, speak to us,” she said, adding that callers’ identities would not be revealed.

Seremban chairman Kelvin Ong said his centre had also registered more callers who were concerned about the MCO and Covid-19.

“They are worried because they don’t know when this virus will go away.

“They’re just restless because they are unable to move freely,” he told FMT.

Befrienders call centres around the country, some of which are only reachable through WhatsApp, social media and email.

In Kuala Lumpur, chairman Justin Victor said the 24-hour call centre had been overwhelmed with 80 to 100 calls a day.

But while some call in either about the virus or the MCO, he said there was no data to support the conclusion of an increase in such calls at the centre.

In Penang, vice-chairman Saras Pillay agreed.

“But we don’t know how it will be as time goes by, especially now with the extension of the MCO,” she said.