Empathy and Hope – Weapons against COVID-19

By Raphael John C. Siah, Sunway Group Brand Marketing & Communications

  • The rising cases of COVID-19 can spark a sense of déjà vu. We hope this article inspires hope and empathy through this difficult time.

Time flies when we are having fun, so they say! We are already in the 10th month of 2020, yet it was a time span barely ‘lived’ by many due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) that was implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, through the efforts of Malaysians over the past five months, against all odds, the curve was flattened.

All was well again. But alas, for only too briefly.

The past few weeks have seen case rates of COVID-19 spread like wildfire and numbers rising at the rate of knots, as cases continue popping up in local hotspots such as schools, universities and malls. On social media, netizens have been posting Instagram stories and Tweets depicting the general public in panic mode and fearing the worst – another lockdown.

Schooling with precautions

COVID-19 does not only pose health issues, but also a socio-economic and humanitarian crisis as well. For those without stable income, the threat of another lockdown is jarring, having to live day-to-day and wondering where the next meal will come from, are common worries.

Related story: Ending hunger, a household at a time via #SunwayforGood Food Bank

Those with mental health issues may find the threat of another lockdown horrifying. Being cooped up in our own homes once again may allow isolation and depression creep back in.  Linked heavily with the anxiety and fear of the aforementioned health and economic issues can add up to an unhealthy mindset of overthinking.

The facts and figures

Mental health was affected during MCO

Since the start of the pandemic, 44% of Malaysians said that their mental wellness has been affected, according to a global survey conducted by Ipsos, a market research company based in France. The survey also found that 37% of respondents felt depressed some of the time, while 7% felt depressed all the time. In a separate poll, Ipsos also found that 55% of Malaysians believe health and physical well-being are a key source of happiness. This survey was conducted between 24 July and 7 August, among 19,516 adults across 27 countries, with 500 Malaysians polled for it.

“COVID-19 and MCO have also caused emotional distress to many, following the change in working environment (having to work from home), while others have lost income and even jobs and fear for their safety,” said The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye in conjunction with the World Mental Health Day 2020.

Lee also said that while Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) has supposedly improved the aforementioned situations and issues caused by MCO, the statistics from The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur shows otherwise; with the months of July, August and September showing that there were more contacts received from those having suicidal thoughts and distress compared to April, May and June.

Our two weapons

The next few weeks will be undeniably trying for all of us. Uncertainties loom and a reversion to CMCO is on the cards for some districts.

Related story: Five Mental Health Myths You Need to Stop Believing

Thus, in addition to all the standard operating procedures like wearing your masks and social distancing, there are two major elements that can help us out in this period of distress – hope and empathy. Hope looks at what we can do for ourselves internally and individually, while empathy is what we can offer to those around us.

Hope

All we can do is hope

“Hope is how we can think about our goals for the future, the extent that we can identify pathways or strategies to achieve those goals and then maintaining the motivation or the agency to kind of keep working towards those goals, even in the face of obstacles or setbacks,” said Matthew Gallagher, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Houston.

Hope, especially in this current climate, seems a very laughable thing, almost illogical.

But hope is what drives us towards a goal. It is our motivation; the oxygen that we breathe in to fight for another day. It is difficult for us, but hope is what we will say when we believe we can get through this. Five months ago, the thought of life resuming to our (almost) normal routine may have seemed like a tall order, but we pulled through and we had a respite during RMCO.

Hope says that if we can do it once, we can do it again.

“If you can’t completely fix COVID, what can you do in the short term to make things better for your family? What can you do so that even with corruption, you can help figure out how you and members of your community can vote?” Gallagher said.

Related story: The Cape of Good Hope

Empathy

Our strongest weapon is each other

Empathy is the cornerstone of mental health. This difficult period will test our mettle, and the last thing we need is for those around us to cultivate a hostile and toxic environment.

The reason why empathy is so important in combating depression is because it helps us to better understand the person in front of you, to get a better grasp of how they feel, to not only walk a mile in the other person’s shoes but to spend a day in their head.

We can never understand what anyone is going through nowadays – someone may be fearing in distance about a relative who is facing COVID-19, someone may be depressed about not being able to see their loved ones, someone may be forced to work two jobs to provide for the family, someone may be out of a job, someone’s depression may aggravate due to isolation.

We can either add fuel to the fire, or bring buckets of water – to ease the pain of those around us. We are the ones who have the power to prevent the worst possible outcome. We can do this by being empathetic – to save lives and to prevent unnecessary suffering by doing our best, following the standard operating procedures set by the government and being compassionate.

By shifting our values from “me” to “we”, it can go a long way to seeing us out of this tunnel.

Related story: A Call for Unity: COVID-19

COVID-19 has shown us a rule that we all should follow – to believe in each other. We must cast aside any judgment and comfort one another instead of questioning. We are there to build us up, not break us down.

What can we do?

It may seem like we are going back to the deep end, but keeping these two values in our minds and hearts will go a long way towards recovery. By inspiring hope, we can lift our spirits high despite the turmoil; this will lead us to gain the strength to champion empathy, which will drive us to make life a little easier for those around us.

It is not easy, and if the going gets tough, please reach out to your friends or family if you ever need someone to talk to. Besides that, Sunway, in collaboration with The Mind, also has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).  Sunway employees can reach out to their 24/7 hotline at +6018 389 3220. This programme provides a safe, non-judgmental and confidential channel to speak out about issues that affect their mental and emotional well-being.

Related story: Driving Wellness at Work

Alternatively, please do not hesitate to contact Befrienders at 03-7627 2929 on their 24/7 hotline.

Remember – If we could do it once, we can do it again.

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