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Mental Health Initiatives in Chittagong, Bangladesh

By Jesmin Nahar :: Anwar Hossain Khan, left his school feeling hopeless and neglected by society since he had leg paralysis due to typhoid in his childhood. With the help and consultation of the Unite Theatre for Social Action (UTSA), an NGO in Chittagong, he was able to increase his mental strength and improve his mental condition.

He is now employed in Chittagong Railway and as an art teacher in his own school. At the beginning, he was treated as underprivileged that had no ability to cope up in the society. Khan’s experience with the disability in Bangladesh is not uncommon; people are facing depression, mental disorders, anxiety, and eating disorder due to their disability.

According to WHO, mental health is a “state of well-being,” a well being to understand own capability, to come out from the mental disorder, and to work effectively in a society. It is challenging to know the mental health conditions as it varies from person to person.

UTSA started working in 1997 to remove the stigmatization of disabled people raising awareness about mental health issues. It arranges psychotherapy, psychodrama, and sociodrama, and theatre for development so that people can overcome depression.

UTSA is working to reduce mental depression among adolescents in different areas of Chittagong. During adolescence, teenagers face different complexities due to their families, schools, and even teasing. They often neither express nor share their feelings to anyone. Sometimes, they drop out from school and face mental disorders that can even lead to suicide tendency.

UTSA arranges different campaign programs to teach teenagers how to adapt themselves to change their lives. UTSA also arranges drama for school-based awareness so that they can keep pace with their daily life in the society.

In Bangladesh, a number of NGOs and actors in the government sector are working on different mental health initiatives. The UTSA is an institution that arranges different contemporary theater based dramas, exhibitions, workshops, seminars, and festivals to improve the mental health adolescent, poor, and disabled people.

Beside that UTSA organizes National Therapeutic Theatre Workshop (NTTW) led by foreign trainers to develop their capacity in the field of theatre therapy for providing need based issue focused mental health care support.

As well as UTSA organizes psychotherapy program for victims and survivors of Mirsorai Tragedy in Chittagong.

UTSA has a project where disabled people work together by themselves. Through this project, disabled people come from different places around Chittagong and discuss their problems and solutions. The main goal of this project is to bring the mentally disabled people together and increase their confidence level. In these meetings, participants are empowered and taught that they can play a vital role in the socioeconomic realm of their society.

Mentally disabled people in Bangladesh are often treated differently because of superstitious beliefs. According to National Mental Health Survey (2005), 16.1% of the adult in age

18 or older face different mental disorder. <> Through the intervention of UTSA, some Chittagonians in Bangladesh have tried to educate people about the basic rights of mentally ill children and adults.

UTSA is an example of successful institution that use drama based psychotherapy in advocating for solving mental health stigmatization problems. This intervention starts as a roadmap of ensuring human rights and creating awareness. Since this project has limited access in funding, it could not fulfill all the health needs of these people.

To achieve the goal of accessibility and improving the equal mental health state, there should be more interventions for a large scale program. In order to bring positive changes, there should be more awareness programs and campaigns through governmental and other NGOs programs in Newspapers, TV, magazine, and religious places. Moreover, to reduce the mental disorder rate, certain actions need to be launched to improve health facilities all over the county.

10th October is observed as World Mental Health Day around the world. As well as most of the countries have one National Mental Health Day to address their national issues. But in Bangladesh there is no National Mental Health Day and no National Mental Health Act. To ensure a National Mental Health Day and Act UTSA has been working through advocacy and campaign.


[Jesmin Nahar, Undergraduate student, Public Health, AUW ID: 100048, Asian University for Women (AUW), Chittagong, Bangladesh. email:

Website: <>]


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