Agong’s daughter takes up challenge to promote better mental health for Malaysians

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah has been appointed as the royal patron of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) to help promote mental health in Malaysia. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah has been appointed as the royal patron of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) to help promote mental health in Malaysia. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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PETALING JAYA, March 14 — In the United Kingdom, Prince William and Prince Harry are strong advocates when it comes to mental health issues.

In Malaysia, there is Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah, who is the eldest daughter of Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

She was recently appointed as the royal patron of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) to gain an upper hand on the issue.

The issue of mental health is serious enough with the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 showing that the prevalence of mental health issues among adults above 16 is 29.2 per cent or 4.2 million Malaysians.

It was also reported that by 2020, mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart disease.

She is both princess and mental health advocate, and that dual role sits well with her.

Young and poised, Tengku Iman exudes an unmistakable regal presence with a warm, welcoming smile that tells she’s as down to earth as they come.

She said her role as Miasa’s patron is something she takes seriously, admitting that there’s a personal motivation behind her drive.

“I have had my fair share of anxiety growing up as a young adult, pushing through challenges of young adulthood life,” she said.

“Although I am no longer afraid to share my troubles with people around me, I do know what it’s like to feel disempowered.”

Commenting on the prevalence of mental illness in Malaysia, Tengku Iman said mental disorder is a very serious issue that has not been getting enough attention and awareness in Malaysian society.

“It is the lack of understanding about the different mental disorders that has fuelled its negative sentiments and connotations.”

As a royal patron, the young princess said, she is committed to do anything in any capacity to shed light on mental illness and push initiative forward.

Inculcating life skills in education

Having lived and studied in the United Kingdom for 13 years, Tengku Iman said she observed major differences in the education system here after she came back to Malaysia in 2016.

“In UK, every school has a psychiatrist and peer support group on standby to look after the children’s mental wellbeing.

“They also have a resilience programme to help children develop a range of social and emotional skills to be able to make better decisions in challenging situations.”

Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association president Anita Abu Bakar presents a bouquet of flowers to Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah following her appointment as Miasa’s royal patron. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association president Anita Abu Bakar presents a bouquet of flowers to Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah following her appointment as Miasa’s royal patron. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Moving forward, Tengku Iman said she hopes to be able to include several life skills programmes to the school curriculums with the help of the Education Ministry.  

“Besides, math, science and other core subjects, the schools must focus on teaching life skills and coping mechanisms such as self-management, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, communication and confidence building to ensure the pupils are well prepared to face everyday life challenges.”

Ultimately, she said her goal was to work with Prince William’s Heads Together foundation and emulate their mental health awareness and support system in Malaysia. 

“In the UK, they start all the awareness and classes from primary through mentally-healthy schools. They also have a text messaging system to support people who need help,” she said.

“I hope we will be able to emulate the same system here and take Malaysia to that level.”

Miasa is a patient-initiated mental health non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promotes awareness on the importance of mental health and provide various supports for patients and caregivers.

The NGO was founded by recovering anxiety disorder patient Anita Abu Bakar in 2017 to help break the social stigma surrounding the illness.

It advocates a holistic solution by combining both medical and spiritual healing methods.

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