BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The number of calls to mental health helpline, Talian Harapan 145, has nearly tripled since Brunei went into a COVID-19 partial lockdown in August.

In his message to mark World Mental Health Day on October 10, Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the helpline received 1,058 calls in just two months — two to three times more than its monthly average.

Last year, MoH said the hotline recorded more than 200 calls a month.

The minister said more people have sought advice from the dedicated mental health crisis helpline, including those dealing with the effects of COVID-19. 

He acknowledged that the pandemic has caused widespread mental health effects, apart from its impact on physical health and the economy.

Last year’s data showed that about 7,000 people are being treated for mental illnesses in Brunei.

Speaking on this year’s World Mental Health Day theme of ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’, the minister said barriers still persist in accessing mental health services.

“Stigma of mental health issues is one of the main barriers to seeking treatment or help. Those with mental health problems are still considered “weak” or “different”.

“There is a need globally to change this way of thinking because mental health problems can affect anyone, regardless of the individual’s background,” he added.

Noting that Brunei provides universal health coverage for its citizens, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said inequality is more pronounced during challenging times.

Those with mental health problems face a number of inequalities in their daily lives, including difficulties in getting help and support.

The minister called on the public to help raise awareness of mental health in the country as well as support one another during challenging situations.

Limit reading news of COVID-19

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the public should limit the frequency of watching or reading news about COVID-19 to once or twice a day from verified and trusted sources. 

“Excessive reading of COVID-19 related content can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress. Instead, encourage your family to spend more time talking or doing activities together,” he said.

It is also advisable for parents to limit their children’s screen time as this can affect their mental health.

“Avoid staying up all night watching TV or the internet and stay away from taking excessive medications because although it is effective at first, it may cause many negative effects to your mental and physical health,” he added.

However, the minister said the use of technologies such as instant messaging and video calls play an important role in connecting or maintaining camaraderie among friends and family living apart during the pandemic. 

He went on to say that staying at home provides an excellent opportunity to spend quality time with loved ones.

“Schedule fun and rewarding activities to do together at home such as doing light exercises. This is also a good opportunity to find out how we deal with each other’s challenging situations at this time as well as provide support to each other.