Battling mental illness by doing volunteer work

Battling mental illness by doing volunteer work

SHAH ALAM: The slightly built, bespectacled woman looked confident and sounded bold and purposeful as she addressed the audience at the almost full 200-seat hall of Raja Tun Uda Library recently.

It was hard to believe that she suffered from a mental disorder and, what was more, she had the courage to talk about her illness publicly.

She is Fatiha Shuib, a 28-year-old social entrepreneur and founder of 1moment4them, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on providing support services to people with mental illness, as well as carrying out humanitarian activities for refugees and needy communities.

Fatiha gave a talk on her struggle coping with bipolar disorder during the Family Psychology Convention, organised by Pusat Pakar Psikologi Jiwa Damai in Shah Alam, recently.

People suffering from bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings from emotional highs to emotional lows or depression.

Fatiha said in the past, no matter how she tried to cope with her condition, she would always fall back into depression or suffer from anxiety attacks.

‘Pre-treatment’

One of her worst episodes was in 2016 which she isolated herself for seven months due to severe depression.

She could not function normally and would always feel sleepy and weak; she could not get herself to leave the house, let alone go to work, or even take a bath.

If she needed to go somewhere, she took public transport instead of driving due to anxiety. That was how she was before seeking professional help.

“When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type two and anxiety in 2017, the first thing I did was to embrace my condition fully.

“I knew if I were to be in self-denial even after being diagnosed, I would not be able to move ahead and go through life with this illness,” said Fatiha, who sought treatment for her condition at a general hospital.

‘Fighting the devil inside by being an angel’

Fatiha swears by volunteerism, saying that it has helped her to cope with her disorder and stopped her from inflicting self-harm or flying into a rage or becoming violent.

During the recent fasting month and Hari Raya holidays, she was in Semporna, Sabah, with her 1moment4them team on a humanitarian mission to help the stateless Bajau Laut or Sea Gypsy community that lived in the area.

The team is teaching them entrepreneurial skills to enable them to set up their own small businesses in their villages to improve their livelihoods.

“We’re doing these good deeds for ourselves. The feeling of giving back (to society) is something very precious,” said Fatiha, who started volunteering during her university days in Jordan where she studied Islamic Jurisprudence.

She said being involved in charitable activities and volunteering for a good cause and helping others not only distracted her from negative thoughts but also made her feel good about herself.

“Helping others’

Another participant at the recent Family Psychology Convention Dr Ahmad Rostam Md Zin, a psychiatrist at Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital in Alor Setar, Kedah, described the performance of good deeds as one of the mature defence mechanisms or coping strategies for people with psychiatric or mental disorders.

Such acts can be referred to as altruistic behaviour as it reflects their willingness to help others even though it may be disadvantageous for them.

Rostam said, “It is a way of transforming uncomfortable feelings and thoughts by helping others suffering from probably similar feelings and thoughts.

“When a person has a mature defence mechanism such as doing good deeds or being charitable, they are actually able to take care of their own psychological health. They are not doing it for others but for their own self-satisfaction; when we help others, we feel a sense of relief.”

It is even more gratifying when helping someone without being asked, such as helping to fasten or zip up a bag belonging to someone who is not aware his/her bag is open, he said.

Performing random acts of kindness also helps the brain to release dopamine, the feel-good hormone also known as “helpers’ high”.

‘Advocating mental health issues’

Besides her charity work, Fatiha also actively advocates mental health via social media or speaking at events.

She said she has been approached by youngsters, mostly university students, who confided in her that they felt suicidal or wanted to harm themselves due to depression or other mental health issues.

“There were some who were in self-denial even though the symptoms were obvious, so I advised them to go and do volunteering,” she said, adding that some of them followed her to Semporna when she went there for a humanitarian mission last year.

She said the volunteering activities calmed them down and when they returned to Kuala Lumpur, they were relaxed and emotionally more stable and sought medical treatment for their condition.

“We need to remove the stigma that people with mental health problems cannot contribute to society,” she added.

Bernama


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