To eliminate the stigma around mental health, it is important that we sensitize all sectors: Dr Dipu Moni, Minister of Education


For the first time in Bangladesh, an international conference on mental health under the theme “Mind the Gap: Contemporary Topics in Mental Health” was organized by Moner Bondhu, a mental health and wellness support organization, which was held virtually from September 9 to 10, 2021. The two-day conference hosted a number of sessions on topics related to mental health, attended by renowned academics, researchers, goodwill ambassadors , mental health experts and more from around the world.

The conference aimed to highlight research, innovation and best practice in mental health care and to strengthen the conversation about the importance of mental health and well-being at the policy level. To celebrate Bangladesh’s 50th birthday, the conference discussed Bangladesh’s achievements and investments in mental health to date and drew lessons from around the world on contemporary and emerging health topics. mental, including theory, practice and empirical evidence. He also explored how mental health has been affected by COVID-19 around the world.

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A virtual groundbreaking ceremony took place on the first day of the conference. The ceremony was attended by several distinguished guests, including Dr Dipu Moni, MP, Minister of Education of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Earl R. Miller, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Professor Dr Norman Sartorius, President of Association for the Improvement of Mental Health Programs (AMH), Professor Dr Vikram Patel, Harvard Medical School, Mr Beniam Gebrezghi, Program Specialist, UNDP Regional Center in Bangkok, Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed, Associate Professor, Institute National Mental Health National (NIMH), Tawhida Shiropa, Founder and CEO of Moner Bondhu and Ms. Shikhty Sunny, Head of Research and Monitoring and Evaluation, Moner Bondhu who acted as the moderator of the inauguration ceremony

As the guest of honor, Dr Dipu Moni, Minister of Education of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, addressed the audience during her inaugural address. “To remove the stigma around mental health, it is important that we educate all sectors. Otherwise, it will not be possible to address issues related to mental health and well-being.” She also said that there is a lot more that can be done in Bangladesh when it comes to mental health, but unfortunately the issue is not getting much attention. Usually people don’t talk about their mental health issues for fear of being judged. Everyone treats it like a trivial matter, even family members of those affected. But this is a very important question that should not be overlooked.

In his speech, US Ambassador Earl R. Miller said millions of people around the world suffer from mental health issues. Now people all over the world are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having an additional impact on their mental health. Miller said that during the pandemic, U.S. centers in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet have largely supported virtual mental health initiatives. He noted that the US government has been supporting the mental health sector in Bangladesh for a long time and will also continue to provide support in the years to come. Miller said, “With our shared vision and passion for promoting mental health, we are committed to developing and delivering effective mental health solutions globally. Our joint efforts can provide accessible and affordable mental health support to all. “

As Moner Bondhu Founder and CEO Ms. Tawhida Shiropa said, “Moner Bondhu is a dream come true, a collective effort to bring professional services to everyone, everywhere. We want to break the taboo for everyone, regardless of age, religion, education and social status. Thus, they can live with their healthy minds, their well-being and with dignity. In countries like Bangladesh, living with dignity matters a lot. And that’s what we want to ensure throughout our journey since 2016. Our vision is to help anyone struggling with mental health issues to heal and live in dignity and good health.

We’ve been planning the conference for months and the closer we reach to people and get closer to the inauguration, we see tremendous enthusiasm, support and good wishes from all over the world – something that tells us that a global campaign for the mental health has already started. Such enthusiasm means a lot to us – to work in such a difficult industry. Our conference is the bearer of ideas and innovation ”

The conference was divided into seven sessions which reflected the diversity of knowledge and ideas of renowned speakers and panelists. It started with a session titled “Understanding Mental Health: Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions and Best Practices” which brought together Dr Dahrav Shah, India and Dr Erik Kucera, USA as speakers. During the session, Mr. Asif Uddin Ahmed, Acting Director of the EMK Center, presented Moner Bondhu’s findings on the signs and symptoms of young people during pandemics. This research was carried out jointly by Moner Bondhu and EMK Center.

The second session focused on “Integrating Mental Health Intervention into the Workforce: Experiences from the RMG Sector and Workplaces”, where panelists included Keiko Inoue, Practice Manager for Human Development in Bangladesh and Bhutan, the World Bank Group and Mr. Shahidullah Azim, Vice President, BGMEA and Mr. Jamal Uddin, RMG Expert. Ms. Inoue stressed that it is important for workers to practice resilience in their work and in their minds and for this they need to develop their psycho-emotional skills. Mr. Azim shared the remarkable mental health initiatives in the RMG sector and stressed that the social and mental well-being of workers is a priority for BGMEA, that is why such initiatives will also be continued and extended to the future.

The third session titled “Telehealth – Digitization of Mental Health Services and 50 Years of Bangladesh” discussed trends and practices in mental health care in Bangladesh and the positive changes that digitization has brought in terms of accessibility and affordability. inclusion of services. Panelists for this session were Dr Mahjabeen Haque, Professor, Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, University of Dhaka, Dr Bidhan Ranjan Roy Podder, Psychiatrist and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) , Dr Mohammad Robed Amin, line manager. for Noncommunicable Disease Control (NCDC) and Samiha Barkat, Public Health and Development Specialist, Australia.

The fourth session focused on “Social Stigma, Mental Health and Human Rights, with Dr. Hurst Hunnam, Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, USA, Mr. Jos Poelmann, renowned psychologist , Netherlands, and Dr Rubana Huq, businessman and mental health advocate, Bangladesh as keynote speakers.

The second day of the conference began with a session on “Child, Youth and Adolescent Mental Health”. Speakers for this session included Sze Wai Cheung, Youth Social Entrepreneurship and Governance of Innovation and Peacebuilding Team, Bangkok Regional Center, Thailand, Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed, Associate Professor, Institute National Mental Health National (NIMH), Bangladesh, Mr. Craig Hodges, Director, Orygen: Revolution in Mind, Australia, Ms. Ella Gow, Member of the Orygen Youth Research Council. They were joined by Moner Bondhu psychosocial counselor Kazi Rumana Huq, who presented case studies on youth in Bangladesh and highlighted the youth-focused initiatives that have been undertaken by Moner Bondhu and Mr. Iresh Zaker, renowned actor and mental health advocate, who moderated the session. .

The sixth session focused on “Gender aspects of mental health: examining men’s mental health and women’s mental health” which explored the gender dynamics of mental health. Speakers for this session were Michelle May, ECW at UNICEF responsible for personnel on MHPSS, USA and Mr. Asif Uddin Ahmed, Acting Director, EMK Center, Dr. M Tasdik Hasan, Global Mental Health Researcher, Ms. Shararat Islam, Communications Analyst, UN Women Bangladesh and the moderator was Ms. Samiha Barkat.

Finally, a closing ceremony with several distinguished guests such as Professor Dr Holly C. Wilcox, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Education, USA, Dr Mahfuzul Huq, National Professional Officer , WHO, Mr. Iresh Zaker, Mr. M. Khorshed Anowar, Deputy Managing Director and Head of Retail and SME Banking, Eastern Bank Limited (EBL), Bangladesh, Ms. Vibha Venkatesh (Vietnam) Trainer in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Vietnam , Ms. Abida Chowdhury, Deputy Digital Editor, The Daily Star and Ms. Tawhida Shiropa, Founder and CEO of Moner Bondhu marked the end of this meaningful conference.

Ms Shiropa noted in her closing speech that the main outcome of this conference has been to propose a national and international framework for the mental health system, a global campaign calling for collaborative action, cooperation and awareness within of the global platform. It was an event energized by the dedication, passion and vision of mental health enthusiasts from around the world, making it an informative and inspiring experience for all involved.

The conference was supported by Youth Co: Lab as strategic partner, Eastern Bank Limited and EMK Center as event sponsors and The Daily Star as media partner. As the conference organizer, Moner Bondhu believes that a collaborative platform like this conference is crucial in fostering partnerships among stakeholders and can serve as a launching pad for global campaigns on mental health. With a shared vision and concerted efforts, it will certainly be possible to provide accessible and affordable mental health solutions to all who need them, everywhere.

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