A Beacon of Hope for Mental Healthcare with Ellisha Othman

11th #GreatHeights Series – Ellisha binti Othman

By Muiz Zafri

It is scientifically proven that symptoms of depression and anxiety have detrimental effects on a person’s physical and psychological performance. Cases of serious depression are directly linked to the exponential increase in suicide cases. Moreover, suicide stands within the top 10 causes of deaths worldwide. Scary, isn’t it? Not to worry, because with every sickness there is a cure.

Joining us on this week’s edition of the #GreatHeights series is our big sister from the class of 1997, Ellisha Binti Othman. Ellisha is a mental health advocate who challenges the societal norms that undermine the importance of seeking mental health services. She actively champions the rights of marginalized communities to utilize these services through her duty as the Managing Director of Science Of Life Studies (SOLS) Health.

Stay tuned as we embark on a journey to understand what fuels Ellisha to fight for what she believes is best for the people’s health. Striving alongside other passionate change-makers, nothing seems impossible.

A Little Girl In A Big World

Growing up in a small family living in Subang Jaya, Ellisha usually finds herself amid adults, experiencing and learning the painful truths that lie within the world at a very early age. This was possible as her parents were very welcoming to family and friends to the house. Even as a young girl, she latched on to her mother’s visits to orphanages as a form of social work. The experience of understanding her mother’s passion undoubtedly set the foundation for Ellisha’s future.

“My parents provided me with the basic comforts of an urban life but instilled the spirit of openness, generosity, compassion, and frugality”

Ellisha cherishes her time with her family and friends

As a high school student, Ellisha was not a bookworm who would spend hours facing books to pass her examinations. However, she uses her unique style of learning, which was to associate academics to the extracurricular activities that she participates in. This was important to accelerate deep learning and understanding. An example she gave was to link Prinsip Akaun to the Entrepreneur Club and English Literature to the Drama Club. Why don’t you guys give this approach a try?

She loved KYS for its egalitarian spirit. Kolej provided an equal playing field for everyone, no matter what background they came from. It taught her that regardless of a person’s past, it is the skills and knowledge that would develop the courage for us to push ourselves and help the disadvantaged. Till this very day, Ellisha strongly holds on to this principle to provide awareness on mental healthcare to people from all walks of life.

She truly enjoyed living in a community while she was a student

Don’t Follow a Trend, Follow Your Heart 

For a start, Ellisha’s career did not begin in the line of mental health advocacy, instead, she persevered in corporate finance for 5 years. Ellisha first completed her degree in Commerce from the University of Sydney. She then decided to follow her heart and made the transition to Clinical Psychology.

Ellisha and fellow mental health practitioners at the workshop on ‘Principles of Safe Trauma Therapy”

Ellisha was always appalled by health inequity, particularly the state of mental health amongst Malaysians. During her time in Australia, she had personally experienced using the myriad of counseling services and positively benefited from them. “I was fortunate that in Australia the stigmatization of mental health services is very low and I felt it was a positive experience and pivotal point in my self-discovery process.”

Due to her growing interest in mental healthcare, Ellisha finally decided to pursue a Masters in Clinical Psychology at UKM. She personally believes that today’s youth should pursue postgraduate studies to truly develop mastery in their chosen area.

“The opportunity to pursue a masters directly leads to growth in your personal and professional life, not merely for the sake of chasing paper”

The Fight to Normalize Mental Healthcare

To date, Ellisha has been a community clinical psychologist since 2012 for SOLS Health. The journey has been long and arduous – not a job for someone who seeks financial abundance. “I was intending to focus on clinical psychology and just get some cushy job. However when you make conscious choice for a second career, I felt I could not shut my eyes to the health inequities especially in mental health”.

“The stigmatization, ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination of those who lived experience of mental health and also practitioners spurred me to include the community development approach to mental health”

Ellisha makes the most out of her position as Managing Director of SOLS Health as she highlights the mental health needs of marginalized communities. They are mainly survivors of domestic violence, refugees and also the Orang Asli community. 

SOLS Health functions to provide services such as Group Psychotherapy and Support, Early Childhood Intervention Services, Mental Health screenings and many more. You can find out more regarding their services via their website https://www.sols247.org/solshealth/

Facing the grim realities and to fight the harsh mentality of the locals regarding mental health has been tremendously difficult for her. However, Ellisha continues to fight on thanks to the support of her family and like-minded change-makers who are passionate about the same cause.

Attainable and Sustainable Goals

She might have 8 years of experience in this field but there’s still a long way to go for Ellisha to reach her endpoint. Her passion and drive brought her to create specific goals for the purpose of nation-building:

  1. Reduce stigmatization of mental health services until it reaches a point where it is as normal as going to a General Practitioner for a fever or headache.
  2. Develop capacity in community mental health whereby the community is able to mobilize the resources, skills, and knowledge to provide support to their friends and family. 

These goals see her as an advocate for systemic changes to reduce the inequity of mental healthcare. This is necessary as there is a huge long-term economic cost to provide mental healthcare services via mental healthcare institutions and regular hospitals.

Ellisha was invited to speak at the International Mental Health Recovery Conference 2019

Tips on Choosing A Career

It is perfectly fine to be in a position where we have a lot of uncertainties in terms of our career paths. Here we have Ellisha’s words of advice for students who have still not settled on their career aspirations.

  1. Be open to diverse experiences even if it is out of your comfort zone.

2. Take different types of internships, travel and live in different cultures.

3. Work and volunteer in your spare time after highschool or during your undergraduate studies.

“This self discovery journey is vital to taking action and making time for reflection”

Ellisha and her University friends at a reunion dinner

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