Puan Anita Abu Bakar is the Founder and President of the Mental Illness Awareness & Support Association (MIASA). She is a strong and known advocate for Mental Health and social issues in Malaysia and internationally. She initiated the first Peer-led Mental Health Advocacy and Support Group in Malaysia. As Anita was born and raised overseas, she subsequently pursued her tertiary education at Tulsa University, Oklahoma in the United States. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems, with a minor in Management Information Systems. Upon her return to Malaysia, Anita pursued a career path as an Investment banker, and worked in the corporate field for over 10 years. She also holds an MBA in Islamic Banking and Finance from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM).
Through MIASA, Anita champions the recovery model and the human-rights based approach simultaneously striving for non-coercive treatments and deinstitutionalization. In her passion in shaping the Mental Health Ecosystem towards a recovery model approach, she established the ‘The Orchid Clubhouse’, Malaysia’s first Mental Health Crisis management and Activity Centre which is Peer-led and Peer-run. Anita also initiated the National Advocacy for Mental Health Association (NAMhA) in 2021 and was appointed as the Chairperson for NAMH, the first peer-based mental health alliance in Malaysia. Inspired by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), this Alliance aspires to provide a constructive platform for a louder voice to promote, protect and ensure the rights of PWDs and work towards the Inclusion of mental health peers in various aspects of life including education, employment, housing, social protection and health, home and family and more. The various support services and activities that Puan Anita help initiate include MIASA’s 24/7 Crisis Helpline (120 Crisis Team members are mobile across the nation), conducting home visits, Peer Support, Family Support, Circle Time, Spiritual Therapy, Art Therapy, Expressive Dance Therapy, Drama and Speech classes, Supported Employment programme, Mental Health programme on the Radio, Food Baskets for the B40 groups and homeless folks, volunteering opportunities and more.
Puan Anita is also the Founder and Managing Director of Qaiser Darussalam Publications, which was founded in January 2013, subsequently gaining branch status by Darussalam Publications. In Ramadhan of 2013, Qaiser did a business take-over of IslamKids.media, and merged the two companies. In July 2013, Qaiser opened up its Islamic Academy offering Islamic classes for children, teenagers, adults, reverts and non-Muslims. Qaiser continues to strive in being a one-stop centre for the ummah.
Puan Anita doesn’t stop there, she is also very involved in educating the public and making herself & peers heard via her participation as a guest speaker and panelist in many conferences and programmes nationally and internationally including the Good Practice Services: Promoting Human Rights & Recovery in Mental Health 2019 in Trieste, Italy where she presented on ‘No Restraint’, The Bali Plenary in Bali for TCI Asia Pacific presenting MIASA’s works and spirituality, the Symposium on Psycho-Social Disabilities for IIUM talking about ‘Stigma, Self-Harm and Suicidal Thoughts from the Islamic Perspective’, the International Asean & Psychology conference on Stigma and Mental Health, the Malaysian Conference on Psychological Medicine on Recovery and MIASA’s Supported Employment Programme, Partnerships in Change, NCDs in Focus, Hearts and Minds ASEAN NCD Connexions Roundtable in Bangkok, organised by Viatris, the International Muslim conference, BeingMe Islamic Conference, the Mentari Family Link programme. and was the first Mental Health group to ever present in Parliament on Mental Health, gaps and solutions moving forward.
During the pandemic, via MIASA she has spoken and collaborated with various stakeholders including Viatris, Badan Perhubungan Melbourne, Selangor Government, Federal Territory Ministry, the Ministry of Health, the Sports and Youth Ministry, Meta Malaysia and TCI Global during this pandemic to conduct public forums, projects for the homeless, B40s and the youth, with the passion of continuously amplifying the voices of individuals with lived experiences.
More recently, on the 30th of March 2022, Puan Anita was the official selected winner of the Patient Champion for Science and Medicine award by the International Metrodora Awards hosted by the International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations (IAPO) together with title sponsor Viatris. Following her Metrodora win, Anita was invited to co-lead the Mental Health Forum in Geneva on the 5th of May 2022 as one of the panelists to discuss and present the topic, “Improving Access to Mental Health Care in Asia” from a peer approach and perspective.
One of her programmes under MIASA named Journey to Recovery and Kembara Syifa has aired in IKIM.FM, a local Islamic radio station reaching out to those struggling with mental health disorders and caregivers.
She has appeared on many tv & radio channels and both digital and print media including TV1, BernamaTV, TV AlHijrah, Astro, NTV7, NXNow, Bernama Radio, Sinar, NST, Berita Harian, Harian Metor, The Star and more. She made her first Ted talk appearance for TedxXAimsUniversity in 2021 delivering ‘A Message of Hope’ and was approached by BBC World News for an interview on her work but unfortunately didn’t materialise due to the COVID situation during the time. She has also been interviewed by ABC News Australia, Islamic Channel UK and was recently on the ListenWell Podcast by Viatris, discussing on Stigma and Mental Health along side Dr Javed, the President of the World Psychiatris Association.
Puan Anita has also been invited as a moderator for many events including the ASEAN Digital Legal Summit 2021 and also during the second Asia Pacific Patients Congress (APPC) jointly organised by Asia Pacific Indian Alliance of Patient Groups (IAPG) and International Alliance of Patient Groups (IAPO) discussing on “Mental Health: Are we doing enough?”.
She is also a certified trainer for the Optimal Health program (a self-management recovery plan); a Malaysia-Australia collaboration, part of the Review Committee for the CPG for the management of Schizophrenia peers and has represented MIASA on discussions with the Ministry on various areas of mental health, proposed ideas on projects in the community and was previously the Chairperson of the Board of Visitors for HUKM. She has also attended the NCD and UHC training by NCD Alliance Advocacy Institute, Quality Rights workshop, suicide gatekeeper training workshop, Mental Health Literacy training by WHO and more.
Puan Anita has also spoken at many schools, universities, corporations and government agencies across Malaysia including Perkeso, LPPKN, IKMAL, Halal Development Corp, MARDI, Petronas, Petra Energy, Bank Islam, Facebook Malaysia, Sime Darby Properties, Viatris, TNB, Air Selangor etc.
In December 2019, MIASA achieved another milestone for Malaysia by organizing the International Mental Health Recovery Conference 2019 with the theme “Experts by Experience”, which she spearheaded with the support of TCI Global. This conference concluded with the Malaysian stakeholder meeting, which resulted in firm resolutions agreed upon by all stakeholders present. MIASA later on became part of the Steering Committee for TCI Global.
Anita was appointed as the treasurer for Persatuan Rumah Minda Ceria in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan which is an assisted accommodation and rehabilitation centre for mental health peers and was also appointed Assistant Secretary for the Islamic NGO Coalition under YADIM & MAIM. She was also appointed as part of the TWG for Suicide Prevention with MOH and recently appointed as an ex-Officio for IYRES, under the Sports and Youth Ministry and also collaborated with the Disabled Youth Organisation and help to set up a centre providing Mental Health interventions for youths in Kuala Lumpur. She also organised the National Hope Symposium 2021 entitled “Thriving in Mental health with Meaning & Compassion.”
Recently, she has been invited to be a panel speaker for the 22nd World Congress of Psychiatry organised by the World Psychiatric Association in Bangkok discussing on “How does CRPD enhance Human Rights?” and also presenting on Recovery and Rehabilitation from a Peer Group Perspective. She was recently invited to be guest speaker for a new TV Channel in Malaysia called SukeTV covering 3 segments on Mental Health weekly.
This year, Puan Anita was appointed as the member council for the Mental Health Promotion and Advisory Council under MOH. She is also the member of Advisory Board, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Association (IFPMA).
Up to date, MIASA has 130 Crisis team members, 1,150 volunteers and 500 members across the nation and have helped more than 100,000 people from August 2020 who have reached out via the various platforms of MIASA. Since inception MIASA has conducted nearly 700 programmes and more than 400 programmes since the pandemic hit with an Impact Reach of more than 1.5 million people.
From Puan Anita – “May we strive to reduce stigma, end the discrimination and inequity; for mental health peers must be accepted in society like any other person because they too deserve those same chances that we willingly give others.”