As well as developing academic programmes, the BMI is spreading knowledge of mental health issues more widely.
“If you have diabetes, you're going to understand that something happened with your pancreas and you'll get appropriate treatment to control your blood sugar levels,” says Zul. “Well, mental illness is no different. It's all to do with your brain. But because people don't understand that, they come up with ideas about why somebody's acting strangely.
“In Pakistan, people may think that evil spirits have possessed you, and community healers and shamans might have solutions, while in Kenya they'll go to their pastors and their imams. We've had many conversations with the religious leaders, who are looking for help in terms of recognising mental ill health and guiding people to the right pathways of care.”
The BMI has developed courses in mental health ambassadorship. Amongst the participants are non-experts within the university and at houses of worship, who learn to recognise the signs of mental ill health, provide mental health first aid and guide people to appropriate care.
Zul explains that where displaying signs of mental ill health is seen as a weakness, symptoms are often internalised, leading to head, stomach or back aches being more prominent in certain cultures. The BMI’s resilience workshops train participants in recognising how physical symptoms can reflect stress, and how to deal with daily stressors, building communities of care.
“We’re also working with the governments to develop policies that are more friendly to people with mental ill health,” says Zul. “We're not there to provide care. But we are there to change the models of care.”