Ubah Stigma on Dismantling Mental Health Stigma

By: Joy Harjanto

Ubah Stigma means to change the stigma in Bahasa Indonesia, a fitting name for an organization with a mission to destigmatize the mental health conversation in Indonesia. Founded by Asaelia Aleeza and Emily Jasmine in 2018, Ubah Stigma has since held five major events, including events held at universities across Indonesia. They covered topics such as mental health among young adults and collaborated with big names like actor Reza Rahardian for its online campaigns.

The two young women met in high school and pursued their dreams to study psychology, albeit in different continents — Asaelia in the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and Emily in the University of British Columbia in Canada. They maintained their friendship through calls when they would talk about the future. Both Asaelia and Emily wanted to pursue a career related to psychology in Indonesia because it’s where their true interests lie. They realized that the taboo surrounding mental health in Indonesia made discussing the topic difficult. 

Ubah Stigma sought to destigmatize mental health issues through a sense of community — they would invite experts and celebrities to talk about their own struggles with mental health, stimulating an environment that encourages people to open up. With over five thousand followers on Instagram, their hard work did not go unnoticed. Ubah Stigma received recognition from the Indonesian Ministry of Health for their contributions to the mental health space. For Ubah Stigma, it is only the beginning. Asaelia, Emily, and thirteen other members of the team are ready to debunk the stigma surrounding mental health and instigate a significant impact in society.

How would you define Ubah Stigma?

Emily: A non-profit organization that aims to change the negative perception of mental health issues in Indonesia. Most Indonesians still have a negative label for people with mental issues. They associate people with mental issues as crazy or ungrateful. The stigma causes people to be more reluctant to seek treatment and ashamed, therefore, their mental health deteriorates. 

Can you tell me how the idea for Ubah Stigma came to be?

Asaelia: Emily and I were high school friends so we liked to call during our university years. We would talk about what we would like to be in the future. Both of us wanted to come back to Indonesia, we thought about being a psychologist, but being a psychologist in Indonesia is hard. We realized it might be because of the stigma in Indonesia– people do not seek professional help because they’re scared to be embarrassed or labelled as crazy if they visit a professional. We held our first event called “Let’s Talk About Mental Health.” Afterwards we thought, why don’t we continue this?


How do you measure an event’s success? 

Emily: We measure them both quantitatively and qualitatively. We rely on KPIs on social media and also send out questionnaires to attendees of our events to see if they liked it or learned anything.We also keep in touch with our followers who regularly go to our events and make sure their input is considered for upcoming events.

What made you want to pursue a career adjacent to psychology even though you knew it was going to be a challenge? 

Asaelia: I always knew even if I went to study abroad, I would come back to Indonesia and help the community here. I always ask myself how I can help and contribute to people. I believe that this is my calling and my heart is driving me to work in this sector. Even though it’s challenging, doors will open and opportunities will come.

What were the challenges you faced in building Ubah Stigma? 

Emily: A lot of people didn’t really have faith in what we were doing. We were considered as a project, or something that wouldn’t last. Fortunately, we know from our exposure that there are people out there who needed a community, we chose to focus on them.

Asaelia: We didn’t really know the audience in Indonesia. Trying to understand and tailor the kind of information to put out there was a challenge, and gathering the team and building commitment was also a challenge. As time went on, we had more of a grasp of what people needed. 

Can you expand on what you now understand as people’s needs? 

Asaelia: A lot of Indonesians need a public figure or someone they look up to first open up. The mentality of Indonesians is that if someone influential opens up, only then will they also open up. That’s why we utilize public figures for our social media posts and invite them to our events. We convince them that we are doing it for a good cause. Most of the public figures we reached out to were supportive, especially those who started becoming more open about mental health in their social media.

How do you choose the different topics to talk about? Which topics get priority?

Asaelia: Usually based on our followers’ comments on issues they are facing. We get a lot of direct messages, where people talk about what they want to see from Ubah Stigma. Usually we assign one topic that really stands out and has a huge demand. 

How do you make sure the topics are properly presented?

Emily: We usually consult professional psychologists to get some guidelines on what we want to talk about. We ask how we can make the conversation impactful and not only provide information. 

Since you’ve studied both in Indonesia and abroad, how do you think the dialogue surrounding mental health differs?

Emily: I realize that people in Canada are very open with the topic of mental health. The fees There are many resources for students who are struggling. Because of universal health care, students who want to see a psychologist don’t have to pay as much (compared to Indonesia). People in high positions are mental health advocates. Mental health issues are a common experience here, and are as prioritized as physical health, which isn’t the case in back home.

Asaelia: In the United Kingdom, the culture is more independent. So people are generally more open minded and just say whatever it is they feel. There is some stigma in the United Kingdom, but the environment is more open. I feel people in Jakarta are starting to open up and talk about it. But, I worry that talking about mental health will become a trend because that shouldn’t be the point. The point should be in raising awareness, helping create an environment where your friends are heard and feel accepted. Because In Indonesia, even when people are honest about their feelings, there are some things they are not completely honest about. 

What kind of impact do you want Uba Stigma to have? 

Emily: Our main hope is to educate people as much as we can. We want to change the mindset but mindset is not really quantitative. We want orphanages, charities, communities or communities in general to help people with severe mental illness who don’t have a home because they were abandoned by their family and need immediate help. We’re hoping by changing the mindset, raising awareness, people will be more aware of mental health issues. And instances when people who get abandoned by their family because of the taboo surrounding mental health will not be repeated.

Asaelia: My hope for Ubah Stigma so that when people talk about mental health, it’s something that is normal.Children should be able to talk freely about their emotions to their friends. People should also learn to be a good listener to their friends. I think that’s what I hope to achieve. 

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