Agong’s daughter steps up mental health advocacy efforts despite new role as mum

Tengku Iman has been promoting mental health as the royal patron of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Tengku Iman has been promoting mental health as the royal patron of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PETALING JAYA, October 11 — Postpartum confinement and the hectic life as a mother is no barrier for Tengku Puteri Raja Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al Mustafa Billah Shah to continue her advocacy for mental health in a bid to combat mental illness in Malaysia.

Young and composed, Tengku Iman, the eldest daughter of Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, took on the crucial role as the royal patron of Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) early this year.

To date, she has been involved in Miasa’s ongoing initiatives and aspires to take her efforts to greater heights by empowering more youth as well as providing support to women and new mothers through forums, collaborations and various initiatives.

For her, the key to effectively fight mental illness in our society is through positive dialogue.

Over the past few months, Tengku Iman has kick-started a much-needed conversation by opening up about a dark episode of her personal life to break the social stigma surrounding the illness.

In an interview with Malay Mail earlier this year, Tengku Iman candidly revealed about her battle with anxiety disorder while growing up — difficulties that she tied directly to the challenges of young adult life.

Despite being royalty, Tengku Iman confessed that she is not afraid to openly share her troubles, hoping to encourage more people to talk about their daily struggles and seek help.

“We have to take the conversation to another level to break the stigma around mental illness and also encourage more people to speak up,” she said after a forum on mental health promotion and suicide prevention recently in conjunction with the World Mental Health Day.

Tengku Iman also noted that her father, the King, is extremely supportive of the cause and encourages her to continue the good deed.

She noted that mental illness does not discriminate and said anyone can be vulnerable to it regardless of their background and socio-economic status.

Apart from sparking conversations, the princess, who was blessed with a baby boy in July, highlighted that there should be a closer look on women at workplace to address the needs of those who have just given birth and battle postnatal depression.

“A lot of people who go through childbirth suffer from postnatal depression, but there’s no support group over here to address such issues.”

Echoing her, Miasa founder and president Anita Abu Bakar, who is also a recovering anxiety disorder patient, said it is very important to have open discussions about postnatal depression and postnatal psychosis to help people better understand such complications and how to deal with it.

Tengku Iman voiced her regret at the lack of support in Malaysia for new mothers who are going through mental health issues as well as those who need to return to work after their postpartum confinement.

According to her, postpartum confinement can cause physical and hormonal changes that may lead to depression or affect the mother’s state of mental wellbeing.

Tengku Iman admitted that although she was fortunate enough to receive the much-needed support, she still finds it overwhelming to cope.

“Just imagine how it would be for someone out there to support their family or even be the breadwinner with zero help,” she added.

(From left) Miasa president Anita Abu Bakar, Tengku Iman and Petronita president Puan Sri Dr Azura Ahmad Tajuddin kick off The Clubhouse Project. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
(From left) Miasa president Anita Abu Bakar, Tengku Iman and Petronita president Puan Sri Dr Azura Ahmad Tajuddin kick off The Clubhouse Project. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Moving forward, the princess plans to approach more relevant ministries to bring everyone together with a shared goal of effectively reaching out to more people in need of help.

Tengku Iman hinted that she has been in talks with the Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman to find ways to address the mental health issues among youth.

Established in 2017, 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 to help break the social stigma surrounding the illness, while advocating a holistic solution by combining both medical and spiritual healing methods.

In conjunction with their second anniversary, Miasa announced a special collaboration with Petronita, the association for wives and female staff of Petronas aimed at empowering women on a programme dubbed, The Clubhouse Project.

Similar to the Fountain House concept in New York City, The Clubhouse aims to be a hub where peers will empower each other, support and promote hope and recovery in the community.

The NGO has received a sum of RM164,000 from Petronita president Puan Sri Dr Azura Ahmad Tajuddin to set up the peer-run hub to offer community mental health services.

It is scheduled to be ready next year.

The association also announced their inaugural conference titled, International Metal Health Recovery Conference 2019 in December, which will kick off with a gala diner followed by a two-day event.

Themed Experts by Experience, the conference will be held from December 6 until 8 at Premiera Hotel Kuala Lumpur.