With World Mental Health Day coming up this Thursday, Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan speaks to Tengku Puteri Raja Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah about the mental health initiatives she is involved with

JOHANN Hari argues in his bestselling book, “Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed And How to Find Hope”, that one of the causes of depression and anxiety is being disconnected to important things — society, nature, meaningful work and meaningful values.

What society has, instead, is the preoccupation with material gains, monetary success, individualism, social media and negative thoughts about the self and others, all of which contribute to an inescapable void inside.

“It is not serotonin that needs fixing,” Hari writes, “but society.”

And it is along those lines that Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan, 26, has stepped out to advocate the importance of mental health, so society can move towards the right direction.

As part of World Mental Health Day this Thursday and in order to bring more awareness of mental health in Malaysia, Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan has a busy week ahead.

On Thursday, as Royal Patron for the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) she will announce a conference in December that will bring patients from all over the world to share their stories.

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan has also pledged her support for the Ministry of Health’s #Let’sTalk campaign to normalise the discussion on mental health and encourage people to seek help.

She looks forward to the Ministry’s National Strategic Action Plan on mental health for 2019-2025.

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan thinks highly of Hari’s book and says anyone who is having issues in their minds should read it.

“There’s a chapter that says you should connect yourself to nature. I feel like when I go to the beach, I am in a bigger place and that gives me a different perspective.

“You need to be one with nature to realise that you are small and your problems are even smaller. I think this is a very important book to read. It gives you clarity about why you think a certain way.”


The princess is also working with the Ministry of Youth and Sports on mental health education and physical activities, the latter a proven mechanism to improve mental health conditions.

“Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (Minister of Youth and Sports) and I have been discussing ways in which we can work together on mental health education and awareness.

“We are looking at how to build meaningful engagement on issues that cut across a number of categories — from the workplace, schools and universities, social pressures, familial pressures and cultural stereotypes to social media and cyberbullying.

“Sports and staying active should also be seen as going in line with mental health because mental health is just as important as physical health.”

She cites Heads Together, a UK organisation launched in 2014 to change the conversation and tackle stigma surrounding mental health.

It has legacy programmes that look into workplace wellbeing, mentally healthy schools and also mental health among the military.

“We are behind in comparison to the UK but we should start somewhere so the landscape and acceptance of mental health improves, which would greatly benefit our future generations,” she says.

Royal Patron of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa), Tengku Puteri Raja Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah.


Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan says she would like to take a closer look at mental health issues among women, particularly teenage girls.

“There are many issues to cover from this end including managing stereotypes, whether societal, cultural or religious.

“Then there are experiences as new mothers including postnatal blues and postpartum depression which, sadly, are still not widely discussed or accepted. These issues can have a very negative impact on mental health, and it should be looked into.

“There are also difficulties in balancing family and work life and expectations — of ourselves and of society — that further place massive stress on women.

“I think female empowerment should not only be seen in terms of leadership roles and equal pay, but more importantly, within the mental health sphere. Women should know that they can ask for help and that society is looking out for them instead of them having to shoulder more than they can manage.

“Women should not be dismissed as being emotional or dramatic when they express their stress, depression or anxiety,” she says.


Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan gave birth to a baby boy in July and while it’s still too early to talk about raising a mentally resilient child, she knows how she wants to approach parenting.

“I want to teach my son the importance of loving himself because it is only when you love yourself that you are more secure. When you are secure, you don’t allow negativity in or let it affect you.

“I hope to teach him that challenges will come and go, and that it is okay to make mistakes, because only then will he grow into a better person.”

She hasn’t read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother and has no intention of becoming one, even though she knows this parenting style can produce successful children.

“There’s good and bad to that. To me, every individual is different, so you need to give children their own space to grow. I know all these are done with good intentions but at some point, you have to give children the space to be themselves.

She says parents shouldn’t stop telling their children how much they are loved, even when kids become teenagers and and feel smothered or embarrassed.

“I hope to show my son that he is loved beyond words, so he never feels alone and knows there is always someone on his team. I think parents should always tell their kids they love them. There is a lot of strength that children can derive from parental love and it translates into mental resilience in the long run.”

“Plus, life is so short. Don’t hold back affection.”

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THE Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) will be organising the International Mental Health Recovery Conference 2019: Experts By Experience from Dec 7 to 8, at Premiera Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, preceded by a gala dinner on Dec 6.

The conference will examine the lived experiences of expert peers locally and internationally to create awareness in society of the value of mental health advocacy work that is informed by lived experience.

Miasa founder and president Anita Abu Bakar says people with lived experience and caregivers deserve to be heard, respected, considered, and actively sought after in order to truly improve the state of mental health in the country.

“The end goal is to initiate collaborative practice by including those with lived experience in the design and delivery of mental health services, working side-by-side with mental health professionals,” she says.

She says people who are involved directly or indirectly in the field such as mental health professionals, occupational therapists, social workers, nurses, doctors, spiritual healers and first responders (patients, caregivers, teachers, counsellors, police, employers, employees and university students) should also attend.

“Peer sharing and support creates a powerful framework, creating relationships where people learn and grow together. This offers opportunities to find and create new meaning through relationships and conversations that lead to new ways of understanding and managing the crisis.

“In silos, we can achieve things, but if we reach out and work together, we can create miracles. I challenge everyone to come with a mindset that recovery is possible for every mental illness patient and to understand that we all have a role to play. This will be a radical learning process for Malaysia,” she says.

Ticket prices range from RM175 to RM350.

For more information, contact 03-7732 2414/ 014-223 6938/ 013-333 6458 or email [email protected]. For registration, visit bit.ly/imhrc2019

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan (second from left) at Miasa’s World Mental Health Day celebration last year with its vice president, Anita Abu Bakar (second from right), former NIOSH Malaysia chairman,Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye (right) and Miasa vice-president 2 Mohammed Noor Mohammed Deros.

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