Meet the passionate & inspirational Dina Bseisu, who took it upon herself to help in raising awareness on mental illness issues for women. Although coming from a banking career and earning a BA in Political Science & Economics from Duke University and later on a Masters of Science in Foreign Services she decided to start Challenge to Change, a social enterprise, the first of its kind in the Middle East, that highlights mental wellness.
AWM had the pleasure to find out more about her initiative and the drive behind it,
Tell our readers about Challenge to Change and what it is all about?
Challenge to Change is an initiative that aims to:
– Raise awareness about Mental Health issues for Women from the Middle East and remove the Stigma around it
– Create safe communication channels and Support Groups.
– Establish a network of professionals and specialists to offer effective and lasting solutions
Coming from a banking background what inspired you to start Challenge to Change?.
My own personal experience with mental health challenges and the realization that early detection, awareness, and proper support can help you live with your predicament and turn it into an ally and a source of inspiration and achievement.
This personal interest lead me to research more into the subject and to discover that Mental Illness is the world’s leading disease according to World Health Organization statistics. Women are twice as prone to depression than men. In the Middle East, and for women in particular, these cases go undetected and untreated. There is a huge Stigma around Mental Illness that alienates the sufferer, further exacerbating their condition. In short, the costs of mental illness are huge on the sufferer, the family, the workplace and society as whole.
This is particularly relevant for Middle Eastern women from war zones and disadvantaged areas.
What do you hope to accomplish through your platform?
We aim for Challenge to Change to be THE voice for mental wellness for women in the Middle East, where they can to speak out, share their experiences, find support and realize that they are not alone.
More importantly, we aim to empower women from disadvantaged areas to overcome their life challenges and develop confidence in themselves and their capabilities. When these are addressed at an early age, it is likely that mental health issues would have a lesser impact on the lives of those who are more prone to it.
How do you see people’s interaction especially Arab women with Challenge to Change, is there acceptance and open communication?
Challenge to Change has been in existence for over a year now. We have published daily content that is positive and empowering. Our team of authors, contributors, and specialists is growing quickly as well as the feedback and interactivity from Middle Eastern women.
Open communication is something that will take time in our societies, especially around taboos subjects like mental illness. That is why WE need to CHALLENGE to CHANGE!
Is it true that still the overwhelming majority in Arab societies do not fully comprehend issues relating to mental illness and see it as a taboo, if so what are you doing to overcome that?
Mental Illness is seen as a taboo subject and there is a lot of stigma surrounding it. Often those who suffer hide in shame, and feel isolated and alone. There is very little understanding and support from the persons closest to them. This is particularly the case for women, and even more so for women from the Middle East.
Challenge to Change aims to overcome that by the creation of: Forums for the exchange of ideas and experiences, online and local support groups, and mentoring programs.
How are you empowering women through Challenge to Change, and why is it important to do so?
We have just started our Big Sister/Little Sister Program. A mentoring program where experienced and successful Middle Eastern women would coach young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have already started with young women from Gaza and Beirut and the results are inspiring in such a short period of time. This is just a beginning.
What is one story that you dealt with that had an impact on you, would you like to share with our readers?
I was having lunch with a close friend and work colleague and I found the courage to open up to him about my experience and struggle with mental illness. After I finished, I spoke to him with a low voice that was filled with shame : “Will you think the same of me now that I told you about my experience?”
He looked at me and said, “ I respect you a thousand times more now. You have achieved what you achieved in life DESPITE your experience!!”.
From that day onwards, I saw my mental health challenges as a source of pride and a badge of courage.
What advice do you give women who are struggling with mental issues?
Stop feeling worthless and ashamed. People who break a leg and walk on crutches are not ashamed! People with cholesterol or diabetes are not ashamed! . They learn to live with their condition. Mental illness is no different. It is time for them to realize that they are the courageous women who raise their children, hold their families together, and pursue careers DESPITE their mental illness.
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