HRH Princess Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah
When I initially set out to focus on mental health, my intention - or niat as they say in Malay - was to simply reach out and support. Who, when, where or how many people - it didn’t matter. I told myself if I could reach out and support just the one person, I would make a difference.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I understand that sometimes all one needs is to feel heard and cared for. But while the act of reaching out may be obvious or easy to some of us, it may not be so obvious or easy to others. This is why my organisation, the Green Ribbon Group, aims to bring together other key stakeholders in Malaysia to play their part in pushing the mental health agenda forward. We truly believe that together we can do more.
The World Federation for Mental Health has been graciously kind towards me. The invitation to be International Patron of World Mental Health Day 2020-2021 gave me a bigger platform to shed light on the simple things that we can all do every day in support of mental health.
For a country like Malaysia, where stigma and prejudice continue to be a barrier in seeking appropriate mental healthcare, I have come to realise that raising awareness for mental health must come from the bottom up. Since the appointment, I have focused my efforts on a community approach to mental health.
In some ways, this approach resonates with the way we have had to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. We have heard time and time again that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and that we need to work together to break the transmission of the coronavirus. Two years on, we are starting to see the fruits of our labour as we now gear towards the endemic stage of Covid-19.
A lot of hard work has gone into managing the pandemic, yet more effort is needed to address issues such as vaccine inequity in lower-income countries.
The mental health agenda is by no means different. In 2020, I wrote I remain optimistic that amidst such adversity, there are silver linings for the mental health community. The psychological dimension of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns have woken up the world into realising that conversations on mental health can no longer be in hushed tones.
It is now understood across the board that mental health is not the responsibility of government or healthcare professionals alone. The urgency with which we must address mental health should not be solely confined to champions of mental health advocacy - many of those who, like myself, have lived experience or have cared for those going through difficult times.
In Malaysia, and indeed our region, there has been a lot of talk on increasing mental health literacy in schools for students, parents, and teachers. Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace have gained momentum, as the link between mental health and productivity is made clear. Decriminalising attempted suicide and insurance coverage for mental health services have also taken centre stage in advocacy and policy circles.
The challenge is to now cultivate a positive attitude towards mental health in general, and to ingrain the belief that mental health problems can be addressed and managed.
I am of the view that advocating for mental health must come hand in hand with basic skills to help support one another. We must also be able to redirect those in distress to the appropriate services for help.
I hope to create a domino effect whereby what one person learns about mental health is trickled down into his or her community. I am eager to show that even as individuals, we are an untapped resource in mental healthcare.
London holds such a special place in my heart. To be able to return, this time on a mission to work on a cause that is very dear to me, is a privilege I did not previously think of.
Malaysia has come a long way but there is still much to do. I look forward to sharing more on the lessons I have learnt and the ideas I have come up with over the past few years.
I also look forward to being in the company of our peers from around the world - those with lived experience, caregivers, resource persons and policymakers. Your insights would be most beneficial on how else my country, my organisation and I can contribute towards mental health and wellbeing.
I am certain the 23rd World Congress for the World Federation for Mental Health in London will be an enriching experience for us all.