Because mental health matters: raising awareness of mental health in Bangladesh

Kamrun Koly, from Bangladesh, is currently studying the MSc Global Mental Health. In this article, Kamrun describes the mental health initiative she established, how this led her to the MSc, and how the programme will inspire her future work.

In South Asian countries like Bangladesh, girls usually aspire to be anything but a scientist. After my MBBS degree, I diverted from clinical practice and instead pursued a career as a public health researcher. Things got harder when I chose to work in mental health. My peers tried to persuade me otherwise, saying that as mental health was not a government or donor priority, I would not succeed. Nevertheless, with an inquisitive mind and as one of the first working in mental health projects in my institution, I focused on maternal mental health and developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorders and pursued a career in mental health.

In 2017, I was the winner of the ‘Mental Health Team of the Year’ in the BMJ Awards South Asia and one of the youngest contestants among 2000 applications. Despite personal accolades, it was clear that my work was still not having impact on those who most needed it in society.  There are only about 206 psychiatrists in Bangladesh to serve 163 million of people. Bangladesh is yet to recognize mental health issues and the role psychologists play in mental health care.

 I wanted to highlight mental health issues through a forum to encourage women to talk openly and reduce social stigmatization

Additionally, due to extreme stigmatization, people do not know when and where to seek mental health care. Women are particularly affected – they provide a support system either for parents, their husbands or rearing children so they do not have time to take care of their overall health let alone mental health.  They tend to harbor their anxiety and stress which affects their quality of life, family relationships, work productivity and eventually leads to physical illness like hypertension. Recognizing the hidden mountain of issues, I wanted to highlight them through a forum to encourage women to talk openly and reduce social stigmatization. Moreover, if a considerable number of alternative workforces can be developed, they will be instrumental in raising awareness about mental health by having a snowball effect in the community. After 6 months of planning and developing a proposal, in 2018 I won a social initiative/entrepreneurship award given by the USA government through its EMK Centre Bangladesh, in which I proposed the establishment of the Women Support Initiative Forum (WSIF) to promote mental health care among the women in Bangladesh.

Our activities so far have included:

  • 12 free sessions led by an expert psychologist, raising awareness about different mental health issues including depression, anger management and dealing with stress/anxiety, which has encouraged people to be more confident to seek care and talk about mental health issues. 2000 people registered to attend these sessions, showing the huge demand, and 500 people attended (seat numbers were limited)
  • 20 medical and varsity students were trained as psychosocial supporters to act as a primary point of contact in case of the primary psychological help and to refer the clients appropriately. This action is still ongoing.
  • 20 Campus Ambassadors have been recruited to promote mental health care in their respective education campuses.
  • We have collaborated with some established counselling centers to provide discounts for WSIF members.
  • WSIF has developed a directory including easily accessible information on counselling centers in three divisional cities in Bangladesh.
Highlights from some of the WSIF events held so far

Highlights from some of the WSIF events held so far


What we are doing for sustainability:

  • WSIF has created a platform on social media, which currently has over 9,500 female members. Ideas and knowledge are exchanged to help overcome life and mental health issues. Daily posts from different users outlining challenges are responded to by other users and overseen by moderators who are all doctors, ensuring those needing help are identified. Motivational information is shared, and it has become clear that users are becoming less hesitant to talk about mental health.
  • The trained psychosocial supporters include five team members, who are doctors, listening to the women over telephone every day whenever needed.
  • We have 10 psychologists and one designated psychiatrist in the group, who advise group members whenever needed
  • Due to huge demand, WSIF has also started to provide one-to-one counselling sessions by our designated senior psychologists – this service is used daily.

Fifteen years from now when we design multi-country collaborative mental health projects we will cherish the process that was initiated at the LSHTM canteen in 2019

During my work on mental health, I realized that I would benefit from more academic training. I particularly wanted to know more about research methods, design, analysis, evaluation related to mental health programs from a global perspective. Finally, I applied for the MSc Global Mental Health course hosted jointly by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and King’s College London, one of the best courses in the world. I am a Chevening scholar and now in my third term of the course.

The class of 2018-19 has comprised an amazing 27 nationalities. Apart from learning more about advance research methodologies, what excites me most is learning about great mental health innovations from different countries from the very people who designed or implemented them. During our breaks, we talk about our countries, share our work experiences as well as planning future collaborations. Fifteen years from now when we design multi-country collaborative mental health projects we will cherish the process that was initiated at the LSHTM canteen in 2019.

Kamrun, front row centre, with fellow MSc Global Mental Health students

Kamrun (front row centre in black top) with fellow MSc Global Mental Health students


The education system is far different here than in our countries, class sessions are far more interactive, which has made studying interesting and has enhanced my communication skills. During my studies I particularly fell in love with the “Economic Evaluation of Mental Health” module because of the teaching modalities of our course facilitator Ms. Barbara. I have been so inspired by her that I am planning to pursue a further degree in health economics.

Every day I am grateful that I am here, and after 7 months of studying here I can say that I am a better version of myself in terms of having an in-depth knowledge of global mental health. I am far more confident and will be applying this experience in Bangladesh when I return. I will be strongly recommending the MSc Global Mental Health for fellow mental health enthusiasts who see themselves as future leaders and change makers in a mental health revolution in their respective countries.

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