Understanding the implications of the deteriorating mental health situation in Bangladesh and how Identity Inclusion is working to create hope through action across the country.
The past two years have perhaps been the most critical period in Bangladesh’s public health history. From strict government mandates during the early stages of the pandemic to the dwindling infection rates, we have come a long way as a nation in standing up against the deadliest health crisis in human history. If the progress persists, one can optimistically assume that we are quickly moving toward a post-vaccine world. However, if we look beneath the surface, the pandemic has merely underscored a more significant public health crisis we have ignored for far too long. Mental healthcare in Bangladesh remains ignored while the number of suicides rises at an alarming rate.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), suicide claimed more lives in 2021 than COVID-19. Suicides claimed 14,436 lives between March last year and February 2021, compared to 8,462 COVID-19-related deaths during the same period the previous year. Perhaps, the fact that makes this statistic even grimmer is that almost half of the deceased were aged between 20-35 years. In fact, the deteriorating mental health of a large segment of Bangladesh’s young population is starting to snowball into a severe public health crisis. As of September 2022, 45 students committed suicide per month in 2022. Therefore, there is no doubt that young people are vulnerable to mental health conditions and desperately need support. This article gives us a chance to look at one of the top organisations in Bangladesh working to create robust mental health support infrastructures at root levels across the country.
Identity Inclusion was born out of the desire to eliminate the stigma around mental health and promote community-based support and social inclusion of people with psychosocial disabilities. Since its inception in 2015, the organisation, led by its founder Shamsin Ahmed, has evolved to facilitate diverse support systems that aid mental healthcare. Having watched her elder sister being excluded from schools due to her epilepsy and schizophrenia, Shamsin realised that exclusion is both a cause and a consequence of poor mental health. Identity Inclusion employs a novel strategy to combat stigma by engaging and supporting families, training individuals, particularly youth, with the necessary skills, lobbying for institutional changes, and focusing on developing a more inclusive society.
One factor that makes Identity Inclusion’s actions so pivotal in Bangladesh’s mental healthcare is its dedication to creating awareness and acceptability while empowering people suffering from mental health issues across the country. The organisation understands that mental healthcare is still an obscure concept among a significant portion of the country’s population and designs its services to accommodate that. Identity Inclusion invests a lot of resources in creating awareness and curating their mental health support in a way that is understandable and acceptable to the marginal communities in the country. It has become a pioneer in facilitating psychosocial support across communities in Bangladesh.
Psychosocial support enables and strengthens resilience within individuals, families and communities to recover from and adapt to critical adversities with potentially damaging long-term impacts. It thus promotes the restoration of social cohesion and infrastructure. Identity Inclusion is facilitating mental health support across the country by creating competent psychosocial supporters. Identity Inclusion trains undergraduate students in counselling skills, such as active listening, non-judgmental listening, active feedback, and self-care, through the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology of Dhaka University. These volunteers are then connected to families that need support organising regular recreational activities and accompanying patients to doctor’s visits, among other things.
Considering the complexities and limitations of providing mental health support to a broader segment of Bangladesh’s population, Identity Inclusion is continuously implementing innovative methods to accommodate the unique challenges. It facilitates support groups where people can come to share their experiences and learn from others in the presence of an occupational therapist from the National Institute of Mental Health, Bangladesh. Support groups bring together people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences. It provides an opportunity for people to share personal experiences, feelings, and coping strategies with a specific social group and/or experts with the guarantee of complete confidentiality. The psychosocial support services are provided by trained youth volunteers who have been trained in skills for providing psychosocial support from the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology of Dhaka University. The volunteers support individuals and families of people with mental health conditions or neurodevelopmental disabilities as required. The volunteers provide moral, physical, and psychological support, such as referrals to doctors or psychiatrists and inclusive schools. Additionally, they raise funds for the treatment and education of clients.
Communicating what we at Identity Inclusion do has always been difficult, because stereotypical understanding of mental health is very easily limited to psychiatric terms. The key to a mentally healthy society is a more just and equal society, these are the broader social and cultural determinants of mental health. We have been trying to address the inequalities that contribute to bad mental health conditions by creating an aware and inclusive society. I hope with more discussions on mental health we will be able to broaden the discussion on mental health.
Founder, CEO and Lead Consultant at Identity Inclusion
Besides providing curated mental health support to different segments of the country’s population, Identity Inclusion continuously facilitates support and catalyses conversations across various institutions in the country. We have already mentioned the young population being the most vulnerable to mental health conditions; understanding the complexity of this issue, Identity Inclusion has undertaken several initiatives to create awareness about mental health in educational institutions across the country. However, executing the idea has its own set of challenges. Our education system and social structure are failing to keep people mentally healthy, resulting in increased suicides in society. There are currently no provisions to incorporate mental health support programs in the school’s curriculum. Despite the hurdles, Identity Inclusion has been conducting sessions in schools nationwide on suicide prevention in the disguise of extracurricular workshops. At the same time, it has been advocating for mandated mental health support in Bangladesh’s education system.
Creating Hope Through Action
Unfortunately, mental health is not a topic that lends itself easily to public conversations in Bangladesh. The stigma attached to conditions such as depression or anxiety is all too real in the country, leaving sufferers despairing of a way out of the darkness. The worsening situation only underscores the importance of organisations like Identity Inclusion. In the midst of all the chaos, it promises future emotional well-being. World Suicide Prevention Day is observed in September, and this year, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has adopted ‘Creating hope Through Action.’ Identity Inclusion is the embodiment of this idea. It does not stop at raising awareness; the organisation is designed to create positive changes through action. By executing ideas and catalysing conversations, Identity Inclusion is showing the light at the end of the tunnel.