Youth and mental health
Mimie Rahman shares, “I want to challenge the misconceptions, stigma and discrimination. I want to amplify the unheard voices of young people.”
In Malaysia, mental health is a worrying issue. It has been said that one in three working adults has experienced mental health problems. Studies show that 250 people attempt #suicide per day and there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of depressed patients from 2011 to 2015.*
These findings are frightening and one of the main reasons behind the first mental health experiential conference that was held in Malaysia last month. To that end, I am featuring three personalities who spoke at the conference to get more insights into the issues and help foster more discussion.
Here, we feature Mimie Rahman, co-Founder and Managing Director of Malaysian Youth Mental Health Initiative (MINDA), a self-funded initiative committed to raising awareness of mental health and mental illness among young people in Malaysia.
You’ve been a mental health advocate for many years now. Can you share why this is your focus?
Mimie: Addressing mental health and mental illness is personal to me and close to my heart. Despite the fact that mental health covers many aspects including mental wellbeing, mindfulness, stress management, mental illness and mental disorders, it is often neglected and misunderstood because of stigma and discrimination. What’s worse is that mental health is often regarded as an “invisible” issue despite the prevalence and alarming rate of mental health problems especially among young people.
Take a look at the data tabulated in the National Health and Morbidity Survey from 2012 – 2017. The increasing numbers are a worry. Even the Malaysian Psychiatric Association has issued a statement that mental health is expected to be the second biggest health problem (after heart disease) affecting Malaysians by 2020.
Despite the readily available data and efforts to raise awareness on this pressing issue, mental health remains a taboo topic in most households and this continues due to misconceptions and prejudice.
When a young person raises some concern about their own mental health status, they’re often shut down without being given a chance to express themselves, let alone receive appropriate support from family, friends as well as mental health professionals.
This makes me realise that there are many challenges which prevent people from seeking professional help. Often, it can result in feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, desire to self-harm or worse, create suicidal tendencies.
I don’t want others to feel that they are unable to seek help.
I want to challenge the misconceptions, stigma and discrimination. I want to amplify the unheard voices of young people and encourage them to seek professional treatment.
Being a mental health advocate, however, is not only about raising awareness of this issue. It involves advocating and promoting mental health for betterment and improvements in policy and legislation. My vision is to promote mental health awareness and incorporate this understanding in schools, universities, workplaces, etc.
In your experience with youth, what do you see as some of the most pressing issues they face today that has a serious impact on their mental health?
Mimie: When it comes to pressing issues, I dare say, everything.
The youth consists of a broad range of ages. It covers the youth in schools and universities as well as the young adults making their way in the workforce today. In this context, it would not be fair to address a specific age group because everyone has their own struggle. There is rarely a situation where two people are struggling in the same way.
If you look at the general social determinants of mental health, poor mental health in youth may manifest from a number of socio-environmental factors such as social relationships, socio-economic issues, education levels, unemployment as well as workplace stress.
The real question is how would our youth react when these social factors come into play?
Would these youth be able to stand on their own?
Would these youth be able to address their challenges and face the stigma?
The fact remains that without internal resilience and the strong support system they can rely on from those around them, these issues can place a severe strain on their mental health.
What are some of the more important projects you have been working on in recent times that have an impact on mental health and youth? Are there highlights or developments you can share with us?
Mimie: From the beginning of MINDA’s establishment, my team and I decided to create an initiative that centred on youth and young people. All our programmes and projects cater to raising awareness, socio development, capacity building and advocacy on mental health and mental illnesses.
These programmes are designed to provide positive and fruitful impact. Our work is aligned to this principle: Empowering People’s Voices. In other words:
- Empowering young people to advocate for better mental health awareness;
- Providing a safe platform for young people to disseminate information and engage in discussion;
- Supporting their voice in order to break down barriers and stereotypes as well as reduce stigma and discrimination.
Through this, we have developed three sustainable programmes:
1) BorakMINDA, a project aimed at providing input and awareness on mental health using podcasts, articles and infographics in either Bahasa Malaysia or English;
2) Tea & Talk, a peer-to-peer support group which is flexible and open to all. Usually, these groups are small, capped at around ten people. We welcome everyone, from mental illness survivors, caretakers to those who need a listening ear and support. Every month, we feature a topic centred on mental health and mental illness and these groups are facilitated by volunteers; and
3) MINDA Care – MINDA co-founders are trained to be good listeners. We provide a safe and confidential online platform for anyone to share and talk freely about their struggles. It is a positive and supportive environment but we also strongly encourage individuals to receive professional services.
You’re a co-founder of MINDA (Malaysian Youth Mental Health Initiatives) which is self-funded. Tell us a little about how this got started, your goals and vision for this initiative.
Mimie: MINDA was founded by four individuals, who were, at that time, connected through Twitter. Each of us has different backgrounds but with a passion for mental health. Interestingly enough, while some of us are in the field of mental health, three of the founders have either struggled or are struggling with some form of mental illness.
This makes us unique because we want to highlight to the public that mental illness is not something that should prevent anyone from achieving their dream. Rather, it can be a tool for empowerment.
Currently, we have close to 10 committee members and volunteers from various backgrounds. MINDA believes that no one should suffer alone in silence. Every individual should be able to talk about mental health and mental illness in any social setting.
Our mission? We aim to increase awareness on mental health and mental illness in Malaysia by providing platforms for discussion on mental health and related issues.
How do you believe that the youth can be empowered when it comes to mental health?
Mimie: I have always believed in the Butterfly Effect. Youth are agents of change in society and represent a catalyst for advocacy. Other than reading about mental health, it is good to listen (without imposing your personal beliefs) to someone who is clinically diagnosed with a mental health disorder or who is affected by poor mental health. This would serve as an eye-opener to youth who want to know more about mental health.
When an individual is empowered and helps to disseminate information while engaging in discussions on mental health, it amplifies awareness. It would be great if our youth could raise awareness on mental health in their own social settings such as in schools, their workplace and within their social circles.
What are some skills and strategies individuals can adopt to better manage their mental health?
Mimie: There are so many ways to build resilience in mental health! Here are some tips I personally follow:
1) Acknowledge that you’re struggling – mental health includes stress management and personal connection with others. Whether you’re facing challenges in your studies, at work or having a personal life crisis, there is a tendency for people to either bottle up their emotions or ignore it. Though common, this practice is only destructive in the long term. Individuals tend to use alcohol, drugs or self-harm to distract themselves from what they’re struggling with. So, first things first, acknowledge that there are challenges you are facing which may require some personal care or professional help.
2) Talk about your struggle with a trusted, understanding individual – talking helps. It is not a sign of weakness but a part of taking care of your mental well-being. I must acknowledge- it’s not easy to describe your feelings and struggles. I usually encourage people to start taking about how they feel today and track backwards over some of the important happenings. Doing it this way helps others to understand the struggle.
However, understand that there’s a difference between talking to someone and talking to a trusted, understanding individual. You find solace and support from the people you trust and who understand you the most. You may need some effort and time to find someone who you are comfortable with. And that’s okay as long as you don’t lose hope! Otherwise, MINDA is always available.
3) Find a coping mechanism – Coping mechanisms help to balance or re-balance your life when stressful events happen. These could be physical activities like exercise or relaxing ones like writing or knitting that help release “good” hormones.
4) Keep a mental health journal – When things are not at par, it’s good to keep a mental health journal. Write down your emotion and how you’ve come to feel this way. This helps identify trigger factors and helps you to find suitable coping mechanisms.
5) “It’s okay not to be okay” – When we talk about mental health, we often forget that life has its ups and down. There are no linear ways to deal with issues that may impact mental health. There may come a time when you find yourself unable to cope – that’s okay. As long as you do not stop trying, it will be a stepping stone towards mental health resilience.
Have you written anything related to this that you’d like to point people to?
Mimie: I’m trying to write more in Bahasa Malaysia lately. The best, personal article I’ve written is “Untuk awak, yang ingin bunuh diri sekarang ni.” (For you, who wants to kill yourself right now). It was written to create some hope and perspective of life for those who have suicidal ideas or those who have attempted suicide.
Are there any tasks or activities you’d like to suggest to people to get started with?
Mimie: Rather than giving tasks, I have a message for everyone:
If you are struggling with mental health issues right now, don’t lose hope. Talk to someone. You are not alone in this battle. Always seek a support system and get help from mental health professionals.
If you are a caretaker or someone who wants to support mental health initiatives, create more awareness about mental health. I encourage everyone to speak up from various perspectives. Every voice is valid.
If you are a lay person who is new in this field, I’d like to thank for wanting to know more about mental health and mental illness. Please read and listen to the people who are struggling with mental health issues without judgement or discrimination.
*Reference from the Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, retrieved from the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015.
For more on this topic, take a look at these two articles and our podcast:
- Mitigating the mental health crisis by Lyana Khairuddin;
- #ImNotAshamed: Malaysian psychologist out to beat mental illness stigma published by Today Online.
This is my three-part article series on mental health that features:
Mimie Rahman is co-Founder and Managing Director of Malaysian Youth Mental Health Initiative (MINDA), a self-funded initiative committed to raising awareness of mental health and mental illness among young people in Malaysia. She was a guest panelist discussing youth and mental health at the Mental Health Experiential Conference. Organised by Emerging Journey Asia, this conference took place 18 – 20 June at Sheraton Petaling Jaya Hotel.
Calm daylight evening grass image courtesy Pixabay via pexels.com
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