Two Against Taboo
All societies stigmatize mental health issues and the people coping with them. However, in many developing countries, people with mental illness also worry about shaming their families. For example in Kuwait, a collectivist society, family members with autism, schizophrenia and other disorders often live in secrecy.
Yet family members also unconditionally support each other. Consider Dalal and Alaa Alhomaizi, Kuwaiti twin sisters who braved community disapproval to study psychology at Boston’s Northeastern University. The twins worked as research assistants at the Chester M. Pierce Global Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and began conducting their own studies. They also launched Standing for Psychological and Education Awareness in Kuwait (SPEAK), a culturally competent, evidence-based anti-stigma campaign to legitimize the mental health field and strengthen rights for people with mental illness.
As TC clinical psychology master’s degree students mentored by global health authority Lena Verdeli, the Alhomaizi sisters have continued to lead SPEAK, making numerous public presentations in the United States and Kuwait. They have given a TEDx talk and raised nearly $300,000 to stage a major conference with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health.
“We each have our own work, but we’re better as a team,” says Alaa, and Dalal adds, “We wish we’d been quintuplets—then we’d have more people working on this.” —Joe Levine
Published Tuesday, May. 26, 2015