Shamsin Ahmed: Changing the perspective of mental disability in Bangladesh

Written by Abtahi Tahmid

August 19, 2020

Shamsin Ahmed has a dream to create a society inclusive of people with psychosocial disabilities. This urge to making the world a better place has driven her to set up Identity Inclusion. It has the vision to create inclusive societies that realize the full potential of disabled individuals by transforming social and public institutions.

Disability is not an attribute of a person it is caused by an exclusive society

Shamsin was the only Bangladeshi selected to be a co-creator of the Barefoot Guide on Inclusive Development in 2016, a publication developed in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted within the UN framework.

Shamsin’s passion for working for these people with disabilities was actually stimulated by her family. Her sister was suffering from Epilepsy (which is not a mental disease)She didn’t have to face any kind of trouble when she was in Nigeria. But when her sister came to Bangladesh, she didn’t get that much support from society. Even the school kicked her sister out just because she had Epilepsy. She didn’t get proper support from society, so she felt lonely and developed a mental illness named ‘Schizophrenia’. As we can see, just because of the lack of proper knowledge about Epilepsy, her sister had to face such inappropriate consequences. She couldn’t even complete her education fully. So gradually, Shamsin decided to work for these people with disabilities so that no one ever has to face the tragedy as her sister did.
Shamsin Ahmed is the co-founder of the Shammo Foundation and project director of its ‘Identity Inclusion’ project. Eventually, Identity inclusion got its own registration as a consulting firm. Identity Inclusion helps people heal and deal with mental health issues to increase their productivity at work.
This aims to break down mental health stigma, promote community-based health services, and promote the social enclosure of people with mental and physical disabilities.
“Support group meeting” is one of the most important segments of identity inclusion. Its main aim is to create a place where everyone can share their problems and thoughts regarding mental health issues without any hesitation. The organization has been organizing a meeting every month since its inception. Participants in this meeting discussed their psychosocial problems in the presence of an occupational therapist from the National Institute of Mental Health. Participants then undergo professional counseling as needed.

Identity Inclusion also helps people heal and deal with mental health issues to increase their productivity at work. She said, “About 1 billion US dollars are lost each year due to disability exclusion in Bangladesh. There’s a public misconception that people with disabilities will be less competent or cost more to employ. But this cannot be more untrue: including people with disabilities can also contribute a lot to the
economy, But it was not possible due to lack of opportunities.”

When one of her clients, a girl with Epilepsy, was asked to drop out of school, almost the same way that her elder sister was, she spent 2 years trying to convince her parents to send her to school. Eventually, this year, they enrolled her in a school.
I also asked her what her advice was towards the people who want to work for disabled people… She said, “We need to listen and try to fix the systems and cultural practices that result in their exclusion. In our good intentions, we end up trying to ‘fix’ them, with treatment or allowances, but that defeats the purpose of inclusion.”

Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience economic and social disadvantages than those without disabilities.
Shamsin Ahmed dreams of a Bangladesh where diseases like epilepsy and autism or Mental health problems like learning disability will not be an obstacle in the society, the participation of all will be ensured. She wants to move forward with these neglected people of the society, not by lifting Division’s walls.

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