Sun, 09 October 2022
One of the most important topics in the world today is mental health. Despite this, it is often the most difficult to talk about but through concerted efforts, this is changing. Kristian Harrison spoke with Yasmin Drummond, wife of the British Ambassador to Bahrain, His Excellency Roderick Drummond, about her history of charitable work and how she is changing the conversation in the region.
What's your own background within the field of mental health? Have you been part of initiatives or charities in the past?
Growing up I heard of my grandmother’s visits to mental health hospitals and charities. I know now that one in four people struggle with mental health at different periods in their lives. I realise that families find it difficult to ask for support when family members are affected.
I have lived in Bahrain for three years now. My conversations with Bahraini friends really opened my eyes to the importance of doing something here to raise awareness and tackle the stigma attached to mental health.
Obviously, we all know the stigma around mental health and how much barriers have come down over the past decade or so, but do you feel there is still a long way to go?
Yes, there is still a long way to go, because the stigma of mental health leads to social exclusion, to loss of status, to unemployment, to lack of opportunities to establish a family, and it can limit access to education. Crucially it means patients and their families feel reluctant to seek and receive help. It is a profound social problem that leads to many other problems and complications.
Furthermore, do you think the task of breaking down these barriers and 'opening up' is tougher in the Middle East than say, the West?
Obviously cultural and religious reasons etc. I think the problems are the same in all parts of the world, although in the UK in recent years it has become easier to talk about it openly as many people have led campaigns to raise awareness, notably Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales (through their organisation Heads Together).
It is starting to get easier to talk about it here in Bahrain, but the problems are the same in all societies. We need the media’s help to persuade people to deal with it in a kinder way, to break down stigma, and together find more systematic and affordable ways to provide support to people who need it.
What have your experiences with mental health been since you've been in the Middle East? Have you noticed changes in how the topic is approached compared to when you first arrived?
I feel very fortunate, since many people have shared their stories and experiences with me. Because I come from outside this society, people know that I will not judge or gossip about individual cases, which can be very destructive. I know that there is a growing community of Bahrainis and others who are willing to come together to work for progress.
How important do you think raising awareness is? Do you think this is the main driving force behind a change in attitudes regarding mental health?
I see raising awareness as the first step in the journey. We need to change the narrative around mental health, to encourage everyone to use kinder language, to stop criticising or shaming people. We want to try to take away the fear, or embarrassment, to not describe people as childlike, or unintelligent, or unpredictable, dangerous or lazy. We should stop using unkind language to describe different conditions. All of these things lead to social exclusion, which we should avoid.
Once we have made progress in some of these areas, we should try to provide more equal access to social and economic opportunities, to give greater respect to those having problems and also give them hope that their condition can improve. In the longer term I hope we can encourage the provision of a helpline to offer direct support and services to those suffering from mental health issues.
What campaigns and efforts have you been part of in the past to raise awareness? In your opinion, what are the best ways to spread the message?
I hope that patients, their families, media, bloggers, influencers, schools, employment places, celebrities and mental health professionals are able to share positive mental health stories. They can all help us talk and think about things in new ways that are inclusive and non-threatening, to help address the problems of stigma.
As we go forward, I hope more people will gain courage to share some of their own stories publicly, which will encourage and reassure others who are suffering in silence. And I hope that activities, like art exhibitions, or performances, or discussion forums, will show us how people can tackle issues in different ways. We will also want to highlight the symptoms of mental health emergencies and crises and explain how and when people should seek help from mental health professionals, or support groups, who all have vital roles.
Can you go into details about MIND Bahrain yet or are you still awaiting approval?
I'd love to talk about it but obviously there's that dreaded red tape again! We are hoping to establish an organisation called MIND Bahrain in the coming months, to bring people together to raise awareness, pool the resources of those who want to help, and develop a programme of activities.
Once MIND Bahrain is properly registered with the authorities, I promise we will launch it with a fanfare of trumpets, to let people know how they can help, and publicise what support we can offer.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I would encourage anyone with questions about mental health to research it. There is so much information available now. It can help us all to know about different kinds of mental health issues, to understand better when someone is suffering from an ongoing condition, or indeed when they are having a sudden episode or crisis. We must not fear it, solutions and support are available, for individuals and family members affected. It is OK not to be OK.