MHAF is featured on Maldeeb, a local magazine.

Monday, September 7, 2015

MHAF – “Time to give mental health the importance it requires”

“When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We’, even illness becomes wellness.” –Anonymous

Psychiatrist, Dr. Shaazneen Ali, has long been aware of the limited resources and services in the Maldives when it comes to mental health. To her, the particular limitations surrounding mental health awareness has been a subject of great thought for quite some time. This eventually led to discussions amongst herself and some friends in 2012 as to how they could create awareness about mental wellbeing. Despite the stigma surrounding mental disorders, this group of mental health advocators stepped beyond social taboo and in 2014, registered the Mental Health Awareness Foundation (MHAF) along with co-founder, Aishath Yooliya Haleem. 

The first of its kind in the Maldives, MHAF (pronounced /mef/) was officially launched in January this year in the hope of creating better awareness among the general public about mental health and its disorders and also to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness. Their third goal is to help to improve mental health services in the Maldives by providing evidence based trainings which have shown to improve mental health services in low resource settings (such as training based on the WHO’s Mental Health GAP Intervention Guide), to the existing health professionals in the Maldives. This is in order to be able to share the task of mental health services in primary care; by training more health professionals and related professionals who come into contact with patients with mental disorder, resulting in early detection and early treatment for patients with mental disorders.

MHAF has held its first set of trainings on Mental Health Gap training based on the mhGAP and Mental Health Awareness and Psychological First Aid; the beginning of a series of programs that MHAF hopes to conduct in the Maldives. With selected health care professionals as participants, their sessions on mental health have proven to be of great use to those who work in the health sector.

Although relatively new to the Maldivian society, MHAF has received some very generous sponsors; enabling them to tackle their NGO’s goals decrease. This in itself, Dr Shaazneen says, shows how our society are ready and willing to make a change to help decrease the stigma associated with mental illness and to help to improve the mental health services through training our existing human resources.

MHAF training group photo

This is where Yooliya steps into the picture, as the co-founder of MHAF, a non-health professional, but an English lecturer, MHAF is aimed not just for health professional but for the general public. As a teacher, Yooliya is a very important protagonist in connecting the dots when it comes to society and acceptance. In her speech, at the Closing Ceremony of the training programmes, Yooliya spoke about how MHAF cannot progress alone. She emphasized on the need for support and engagement across all of society – from how the media portrays mental health, how it is address at work, in a school, how families and friends respond – “we can all do more to improve the lives of people with mental health disorders and at the same time, promote wider mental wellbeing”.

MHAF trainers

The Closing Ceremony of the training programmes was held on 31st August 2015 at IGMH. The Honourable Minister of Health, Iruthisham Adam graced the ceremony along with CEO of IGMH Brigadier General (Ret.) Farhath Shaheer and WHO Representative, Dr. Arvind Mathur. Unlike most of the awareness groups in the country, MHAF has gone beyond borders in bringing its audience the much-needed education on mental health. Determined to give it her best, Dr. Shaazneen has recruited volunteer psychiatrists from United Kingdom to participate and work in collaboration with MHAF to provide the training programmes. His first time in the Maldives, Dr. Bartlomiej Matras wasn’t “entirely sure what to expect from the participants” but was “pleasantly surprised about how aware the health care professionals were and how keen they were to learn and share their ideas and experiences” in the training programs.

Dr. Soumitra Burman-Roy, also a London based psychiatrist, said that it was a good experience and he enjoyed teaching the health care professionals and “they raised a lot of issues about people struggling and not as much awareness among the populations. Even though the trainees were well versed, they we still grateful for the training”. Speaking about mental health in the Maldives, he said that “it seems a lot of people have had experience with people with mental health issues and are in very extreme situations” and that the health care professionals needed a lot more training to tackle these issues.

MHAF plans to create awareness about mental health through media campaigns, via TV and social media. MHAF’s focus is on increasing mental health awareness and decreasing the stigma associated with it as they target their campaigns for the World Mental Health Day celebrated every year on October 10th. The NGO has laid what is a stepping stone to a much neglected social crisis in need of dire attention and advocacy by professionals and general public. MHAF hopes to educate health care professionals so they may better “diagnose and treat” patients with mental health disorders. Although laden with obstacles, with the support they’re receiving from health care professionals, the future looks bright for MHAF.

This is a very good program. When we first attended, we didn’t know the significance of such a training program. But after being here for six days, we feel we need a special training to become trainers. Because this is a neglected area in our everyday life. Also, the Mental Health Millennium Goal wasn’t there in the UNDP’s list before. We need to add it to that so that we can collaborate with it.” – M.S.N Rinzy, Senior Nurse Manager, Vilimale Hospital.

The training is actually very useful for everyone. We learnt a lot in these six days about how to assess and manage patients who present with disorders. Because in our line of duty, we have to deal with these kind of people in our day to day life.” – Fathmath Neema, Victim Support Unit, Maldives Police Service.

We got a lot of information about mental health and some of the disorders present in our society. For instance, if a patient comes to us, we now know what to say to them and their family. We now know how to handle such cases. I think this training is the best we have had here withthe most participant involvement.” – Dr. Abdul Azeez Hameed, Dhamana Veshi.

This training taught me a lot about how to deal with patients with disorders. It also taught me a lot about how we can provide better care for the patients at the Centre.” – Shaany, Supervisor, Home for People with Special Needs, Guraidhoo.

This training has been very useful, especially because we have so many children at the ‘Kuda Kudhinge Hiya’. Most of the time everyone just focuses on physical wellbeing instead of mental wellbeing. This training has opened our eyes to what we need to look out for and how our care workers can support and talk to children.”– Nisha, Counsellor, Kuda Kudhinge Hiya.