World Mental Health Day through the lens of mental health practitioners in Bangladesh
Psycure Organization and BYLC jointly organised a webinar on October 10, in observance of World Mental Health Day, with the theme "Mental Health in an Unequal World."
The event was supported by Rokomari .com, The Daily Star, and Science Bee. Representatives from each organisation were present. The event was graced by 150 beneficiaries.
The public panel discussion was moderated by Fabia Firoze, Chairperson of Psycure Organization and a program implementation coordinator with the Asia Foundation. Fabia was named as one of the three Global Youth Ambassadors for Gender Equality (SDG 5) by the Asian Development Bank. She was recognised by the CT Secretary of State for her outstanding service to the State of Connecticut in the US, and received the David. B Walker Award by the University of Connecticut for her tireless dedication to public service.
Furthermore, she worked with renowned organisations such as the Clinton Foundation, BRAC, and US government agencies.
The three panelists were Azharul Islam, Assistant Professor of the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology of University of Dhaka and a bestselling psycho-fiction writer, as well as Dr M Tasdik Hasan, a medical doctor and public health specialist and a research associate at the University of Liverpool, UK and Monira Rahman, the founder of Innovation for Wellbeing Foundation which promotes mental health equity for sustainable development.
Rahman has been the Country Lead for Mental Health First Aid Bangladesh and is an Amnesty International Human Rights Defender Awardee.
The webinar covered various relevant issues such as parent-child attitudes towards mental health, the disparity in availing services, and ways to remove this disparity in Bangladesh.
Fabia Firoze started the discussion by focusing on the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on people's mental health. Some groups, including health and other frontline workers, students, as well as those living alone, those living with and taking care of their families and those with pre-existing mental health conditions have been particularly affected. About 2 crore people in Bangladesh have been found to be suffering from mental disorders, according to a government survey.
Although Bangladesh has been identified as a country with a dire need of mental health services by the international community, the government spends only 0.44 percent of the national budget in this sector, and currently, there are only 0.073 psychiatrists per 100,000 populations. So, there is a critical need to cater to the mental health requirements of Bangladesh, mentioned Firoze.
Azharul Islam spoke at length about how more investment in research for culturally appropriate and indigenous solutions, and infrastructure development can help increase the availability and accessibility of mental health services. People are nowadays actively seeking psychological help. Yet, the lack of services outside Dhaka City is a big problem, Islam mentioned.
He emphasised on the delicate and time-intensive nature of encouraging a mass behavioral change in accepting and dealing with mental health issues. Furthermore, he stressed that the government can introduce a hotline number for citizens to discuss issues related to mental health.
Monira Rahman spoke about the necessity of public and private sector partnerships in tackling the gap in mental healthcare in Bangladesh. Despite the formulation of government policies concerning the biological care of mental issues, the implementation of such policies is a responsibility of both the public and private sectors, mentioned Rahman. She highlighted the importance of experts for social rehabilitation and integration, which are vital for recovery.
She emphasised on implementing a comprehensive Biopsychosocial model to enhance treatment and prevention strategies related to mental health issues. These strategies need to be established since changes in biological, social, and psychological influences are salient components to address mental health. She emphasized that prevention through developing resilience, self-care, and emotional awareness will take us far in improving mental healthcare services in Bangladesh.
The discussion further explored mental health as a career and addressed the differences between service providers in the medical field and psychological field. Quality assurance and the seeming lack of public faith in mental health services need to be addressed in the mental health sector, the discussants noted. All the panelists weighed on why high-tier psychologists are so few in the field, what may incentivise prospective students to choose mental health as a career, and addressed the critical role of non-professionals such as peer workers and lay counsellors in providing mental health services.
They reiterated that awareness, education, and understanding of mental health are success factors to address mental health in Bangladesh.
Dr M Tasdik Hasan mentioned many factors that create an unequal world, in terms of mental health. He discussed the need for social inclusion and the significance of empathy for improving the lives of people in crisis. To illustrate the importance of such psychological techniques, he spoke of his childhood experience of bullying, when sharing his experience with a teacher had helped him overcome his insecurities.
It helped him identify his individual strengths, which changed his life in a positive manner.
He also talked about the importance of understanding when one is in need of help, and indeed, in what respect. He discussed how those who don't recognise the signs of deteriorating mental state often don't have appropriate coping strategies and can end up feeling overwhelmed and out of control, which can hamper their daily activities. These are signs that one needs to see a mental health service provider, either a professional psychologist or a counsellor, who can conduct appropriate assessments, he mentioned.
Though the process of changing the mental health landscape may be a long and tedious process, the mental health practitioners were hopeful that if everyone comes together, we can promote mental health for all in Bangladesh. The public panel discussion ended with an interactive question and answer session with the participants.