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Aminath Nahida: Working to destigmatise mental health

Posted: 3 October 2023

Maldives, Alumni, Impact,

Aminath Nahida is using the skills and knowledge she gained through her Australia Awards Scholarship to improve the mental health of the Maldivian people.

Nahida was motivated to pursue studies in Australia after learning about the quality of the Australian education system from friends and family, who praised the experience as well as the learning environment. She was also impressed by how Australia Awards alumni returned home and contributed their expertise to Maldives. With this in mind, Nahida applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2011 and was accepted to pursue a Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Adelaide in 2012.

This was Nahida’s first experience of visiting Australia, and she was very impressed by the country. Not only was it beautiful, but the warm and welcoming nature of the people she met gave her a sense of belonging and made her feel at home. She also had extended family in Adelaide, which further added to her sense of security and helped make it easy for her to adjust to life in Australia.

Nahida speaking at the launch of a handbook and materials about mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, an event supported by Australia Awards.

Living and studying in Australia changed Nahida’s whole outlook on life. She says her experience of living in Australia made her more flexible and tolerant of many situations she encounters. Selfcare became a priority for Nahida because student life had its struggles at times. She says, ‘My Australia Awards experience was worthwhile and beneficial from both an academic and personal standpoint. I was able to acquire complex knowledge in my field. The placement gave me the chance to further enhance my experience by working as an intern at Unihealth Playford/Adelaide. My internship days were the most valued days as they gave me experience in the counselling setting which I would not have gained elsewhere. The psychologists and my supervisor, Professor Mark Pearson, were part of the biggest support system that I have had so far in my life. I cannot thank them enough for their guidance, which has been the benchmark for the beginning of my career as a counsellor.’

Nahida was also very fortunate to receive an opportunity to train at Lifeline Centre in Adelaide and work with them for a few months. This experience helped her to learn much more in her chosen field. The opportunities she gained from her time in Australia enabled her to gather more skills and knowledge to take back to Maldives and make a difference.

After returning to Maldives as a licensed therapist, Nahida noticed that there were not many places in Malé where the public could access support for their mental health. To address this gap, Nahida—together with fellow Australia Awards alumna Aishath Shanoora and four other Australian alumni, including her sister Niumaath Shafeeg—established the Institute for Mental Well-Being (IMWB) in 2015. IMWB is a place where the team could assess and treat clients in Maldives with mental health issues and disabilities. Although based in Malé, the team makes an active effort to reach out to the atolls, as well as to provide support for those seeking help from remote areas.

IMWB offers an array of services such as counselling and psychotherapy services, psychological assessments, psychiatric consultations, early intervention programs, services for children with disability, advocacy and awareness programs, and internship opportunities for students of psychology and counselling at bachelor’s and master’s degree levels.

Alongside other ongoing projects, the team recently completed a project on mental health awareness in collaboration with the Health Protection Authority of Maldives. This project targeted groups such as media personnel, Islamic scholars, police officers, health care professionals, and caretakers at child care protection authorities and homes for people with disability.

‘The biggest achievement for me is being able to set up a clinic that provides mental health services and being able to successfully manage and run it for the past seven and a half years,’ Nahida says.

Nahida (right) working at the IMWB with a colleague.

Nahida takes part in alumni engagement events and is an active member of Maldives Australia Alumni, an association for Australia Awards alumni. Nahida and Shanoora were also recipients of Australia Awards small grants, with which they have been able to develop resources such as posters and books in Dhivehi (the local Maldivian language) that provide information and techniques in dealing with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Two of the three books are self-help workbooks on how to deal with anxiety and depression and are the first such books developed in Dhivehi in Maldives. The grant they received in 2022/2023 will see Nahida and Shanoora organising a psychological camp to screen children for neurological and developmental delays, as well as mental health issues. The camp will also include an awareness session for teachers and parents of children with developmental delays and mental health issues.

Nahida intends to progress further in the field and hopes to one day be able to change the IMWB clinic into a mental hospital, where in-house treatment and rehabilitation centres are in place for severe mental health cases, which is a monumental concern in Maldives.

‘Australia Awards was an eye opener for me,’ says Nahida. ‘The knowledge and experience I gained from the course shaped me and equipped me well to be able to treat people with different mental health issues. It gave me the strength and courage to start up a mental health institute to serve the general public. The fact that we are now a trusted service provider is proof that we have made a positive impact on the general public and our aim is to continue to work towards achieving a better mental health population in Maldives.’