Dr Tiffanie Ong of Naluri wants Malaysians to know that mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin.
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In recent years, there has been stronger attempts to raise awareness of mental health in Malaysia. At the same time, there has also been worrying reports of how more Malaysians are struggling with chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
For Dr Tiffanie Ong, Chief Operating Officer of Naluri, a digital health therapeutics company, the two are not separate issues.
Mental health and physical health are highly inter-linked.Dr Tiffanie Ong to TRP
The Gender Difference
While Naluri’s services are tailored to the individual, there are general differences in the way men and women perceive and face health issues.
Malaysians, as a whole, suffer from chronic illnesses such as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. However, men under the age of 30 are more likely to have hypertension, while women are more likely to have higher cholesterol impacts.
Women also face added stress from the implicit expectation and social norms to juggle multiple roles, such as being a good careerwoman, wife, mother, daughter-in-law all at once.
Additionally, women tend to benefit from more emotion-focused coping mechanisms, whereas men tend to focus on problem-focused coping mechanisms. Yet, problem-focused coping mechanisms are often regarded as the preferred and more effective method due to its more active approach, leaving women to feel unaccepted and less respected for their preferences.
For women, this lack of recognition negatively impacts their mental health, but is unfortunately often brushed off by society, especially in the workforce.
2 birds, 1 stone
Mental health does not exist in a vaccum, and neither does physical health. Dr Tiffanie explains that both are two sides of the same coin, each affecting the other.
Those with serious mental health illness are at higher risk of developing chronic physical conditions and those with chronic physical health conditions have been showed to experience elevated levels of depression and anxiety at twice the rate of the general population.Dr Tiffanie Ong to TRP
Mental stress brings with it real psychological change, such as hormonal imbalances, but it also impacts social and cognitive functioning. This leads to poorer lifestyle choices and unhealthy behaviours, which in turn leads to a dimished quality of life, which further impacts mental health, and could easily lead to chronic physical health issues as well.
Because of how closely-linked mental and physical health are, Dr Tiffanie believes that a person’s health should be improved from all aspects at the same, instead of treating each symptom separately.
Health experts of all kinds
As the Chief Operating Officer at Naluri, she uses her expertise as a cognitive psychologist to develop a multi-disciplinary method to help clients. Naluri provides access to experts and specialists in various fields, so they can tackle and improve their lifestyle holistically and see more complete results.
Naluri users can be paired with dietitians, fitness coaches, medical advisors, pharmacists, financial planners, and executive coaches to improve all aspects of their life.
We recognise that for some, they may need more than psychological support/ counselling to alleviate their mental distress, therefore, on our platform, our users are able to reach out and seek guidance/ advice from specific experts.Dr Tiffanie Ong to TRP
However, Dr Tiffanie notes that the asynchronous chat service has been most impactful for Naluri’s users.
Aside from accessibility and affordability, the app’s chat service provides an outlet for people who may be too overwhelmed to book a 1-on-1 therapy session with a mental health professional and wait until the session to unburden themselves.
They may also lack the courage to reach out given the stigma that is still highly prevalent in our society.Dr Tiffanie Ong to TRP
The chat service, similar to WhatsApp, allows for a safe and confidential environment where individuals can reach out to help freely.
Mental stigma is still prevalent in Malaysia
According to Dr Tiffanie, as a whole, the understanding of mental health is still poor in Malaysia, especially around the causes and impact of poor mental health on the individual and those around them.
Malaysians also tend to suffer in silence or resort to maladaptive coping behaviours due to poor awareness of early signs and symptoms, an unhealthy environment, and the strong stigma associated with mental illness.
Generally, we would advise people to reach out for professional help when the struggles or issues they have been facing has persisted for over 2 weeks and/or has started to impact their daily functioning.Dr Tiffanie Ong to TRP
Does that apply to a woman COO?
Empathy is a trait typically seen in women leaders, but isn’t often a trait coveted for top leadership roles. However, as Naluri sits within the industry of digital mental health, empathy is required at the front and center of all decisions made.
In addition, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a leadership team within Naluri that not only appreciates, but celebrates diversity. With that, I’ve personally not experienced any additional challenges as a result of being a woman COO.Dr Tiffanie Ong to TRP
As a leader in her industry, she hopes that there will be more emphasis on being patient-centric with preventive care while moving away from being disease-centric.
Lifestyle interventions has the potential to serve as the first line of treatment of chronic diseases which will be more cost effective and sustainable than medications.Dr Tiffanie Ong to TRP
The Rakyat Post is partnering with leading Malaysian mental health NGOs & Social Enterprises to fundraise for Malaysia’s first Community Mental Health Fund. Donate to this cause and be rewarded with e-mental health info pack, one-month trial of Thoughtfull & Naluri app or art therapy for disabled children. Go here to donate or volunteer now https://reward.pitchin.my/projects/community-mental-health-fund #MYMinda
Anne is an advocate of sustainable living and the circular economy, and has managed to mum-nag the team into using reusable containers to tapau food. She is also a proud parent of 4 cats and 1 rabbit.