Committed to pushing mental health agenda forward

KUALA LUMPUR: The Princess Diaries, in reality, is much more ordinary and far removed from Hollywood.

Tengku Puteri Raja Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah keeps a diary but it is one that is packed with a work schedule related to her mission on promoting mental health.The princess is the international patron for World Mental Health Day.

(Her appointment in September was recommended by the World Federation for Mental Health and acknowledged by the World Health Organisation and other United Nations agencies.)

She said she wanted to raise awareness among Malaysians to break the stigma associated with mental health issues and illness.

And that included giving full support to those who are suffering from these problems, she said.

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan said she would also like to make women and children a focal point in her work.

“I am planning a lot for next year, ” she said.

She said that she wanted to give focus on women as the group is seen as the most vulnerable, citing a Unicef study that female-led households had been particularly disadvantaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s because women have to juggle multiple roles – as a mother, as a wife, and having a job, ” said Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan, who has a son with Fomema chairman Tengku Abu Bakar Ahmad Tengku Arif Bendahara Tengku Abdullah.

The princess stated that working women had a bigger challenge in maintaining a work-life balance compared to men even in the best of times, what more during the pandemic.

For instance, she said that mothers had to deal with the impact of the pandemic on mental health and family ties.

“Some are pressured to have children, they don’t get enough support in that area, and miscarriages, which are common, ” she added.

She believed that it was best if mental health issues could be tackled as early as possible, as she felt that “prevention is the best”.

“Interestingly, when I did an Instagram posting on what aspect of mental health I should focus on in 2021, I was surprised to see a lot of the answers were centred on the youth, ” she said.

She said that she was prepared to work with the relevant parties, including the Education Ministry, to raise more awareness.

“Children mostly don’t realise they have an issue, and they carry on to adolescence and adulthood, ” she said.

She hoped that mental resilience would be included in early education to help children manage negative experiences such as bullying, isolation, humiliation, and emotional responses such as fear, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

“Self-care, self-esteem, and mindfulness are as important as literacy and numeracy, ” said Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan.

As for efforts to de-stigmatise mental health issues, she said: “I would like to encourage people to not only reach out to those who are suffering, but I would also like society to be able to talk about issues such as suicide without making it such a taboo.

“Some say that if they bring up a sensitive topic such as suicide, it will plant ideas into people’s head to be suicidal. But I don’t feel like that, I feel we should be talking about it more, ” she said.

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan said it was equally important to be aware of the resources available in the country to help those in distress.

This includes helplines run by NGO and the Talian Kasih under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

“We should tell those who are suicidal to reach out to groups such as Befrienders, Miasa (Mental Awareness and Support Association) and Malaysian Mental Health Association, ” she said.

She said that she would also be doing several collaborations with NGOs.

“I am going to sell merchandise like T-shirts and caps with green ribbons in order to raise money for a fund that I am creating, ” she said.

The green ribbon, which is the symbol for mental health awareness, is now being redesigned by her.

But Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan is practical, too, as she said: “A year is far too short for these aspirations to come to light.

“But these are the areas that I would like to focus on and these are some of the changes that I hope to be able to formulate in five, 10,15,20 years down the line.

“However long it takes, I am committed to help push the mental health agenda forward in our country, ” she said.

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