PETALING JAYA - Tragedies involving MAS and other international airlines have led to new depression cases and worsened the conditions of existing patients in some cases.
Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj Chandrasekaran said MH17 and MH370 were national tragedies that affected all Malaysians, some more severely than others.
He said the cabin crew he treated fell into three categories - those who developed a fear of flying, became depressed, or were experiencing a worsening of depression.
"I am also concerned about the increase in fear-of-flying cases. Some avoid seeking professional help, preferring to avoid travelling by planes.
"This is unfortunate because the success rate for treatment is high."
On March 8, MH370 with 239 people on board, vanished en route to Beijing, and on July 17, 298 lives were lost when MH17 crashed in the war-torn Russian-Ukraine border.
In the last 30 days alone, there were four other air crashes around the world, killing more than 200 on board.
Dr Andrew, who is also the Health Ministry's Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council member and a consultant psychiatrist, said a young cabin crew member he had treated contemplated quitting the industry while a senior cabin crew member's depression worsened as she had friends among those who perished," he said.
Dr Andrew said it was important to differentiate between normal sadness and depression.
"Under adverse situations, like the death of a relative, sadness is normal.
"A depressed person, however, experiences irritability, agitation and exhaustion, leading to the inability to handle daily responsibilities," he said.
In "smiling depression" cases, the tell-tale signs can be masked, he warned.
Citing the late actor-comedian Robin Williams as an example, he said such patients usually exude a happy, bubbly public persona, hiding feelings of worthlessness, shame and self-loathing.
"Tragically, even their dear ones do not know that it is a sad smile.
"What's worrying is that they may smile even more after deciding to end their pain by committing suicide," he said.
He advised those with depression to seek help immediately as a delay could result in murder, suicide or substance abuse.
"Poor understanding of mental illness has led to those suffering from depression, anxiety, psychosis or substance abuse, to seek help from traditional healers, believing that these were caused by a 'curse, spirit possession or charm'.
"Supernatural treatment can be physically harmful as it may involve forms of torture to 'drive away the spirit'.
"But they don't want psychiatric help for fear of being labelled as mad," he said.
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