Yasmin Nadeem Parpio, an Assistant Professor at Aga Khan University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery (AKU-SONAM), is an advocate for mental health and wellbeing and was recently recognised as one of the World Health Organization’s 100 Outstanding Nurses and Midwives. Yasmin is a public health nurse and also the first regional coordinator from South Asia to represent the Middle East Region in the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.

When we think of mental health conditions, we might not often associate them with symptoms such as changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, or socialising. Yet, in certain cases, these signs can be indicators of an underlying mental health issue, particularly among teenagers. According to the World Health Organization, across the world, an estimated 10-20% of adolescents experience mental health conditions but are unable to receive the support they need. In some instances, this is due to social stigma, which can exacerbate symptoms and often prevent individuals from seeking treatment.

Yasmin’s interest in mental wellbeing traces back to her own personal experiences growing up in Sindh, Pakistan. As a young girl, Yasmin experienced her own set of challenges with transitions, a frequent cause of mental health problems. Yasmin recalled that the first time she menstruated, she felt unprepared and went to her mother in the presence of two guests to ask why she was bleeding. Her mother shushed her and told her not to continue talking.

As Yasmin became older and began working in different communities, she saw that her experience was not unusual — many other adolescents often go through physical changes in their bodies and are unprepared to address them. These physical changes can create stress and affect their mental health as well as academic performance.

“So much is going on inside [adolescents],” said Yasmin. “Parents are sometimes unable to recognise or acknowledge what they are going through.”

Yasmin is currently seeking to address some of these issues through her PhD in Population Public Health, which she hopes to complete by 2023. Her research is focused on developing a programme to build adolescents’ social skills and manage their mental health. She is creating a series of modules on topics ranging from anger and conflict management to effective coping skills. She hopes to later on introduce these modules to students at different schools.

Yasmin acknowledged that one of the challenges she faces in her work is breaking down the stigma around mental health.

“Changing mindset is always difficult. It takes time,” she acknowledged. “Continuous reinforcement really works. I have seen communities become transformed, and Insha’Allah, a time will come where everyone will come out of the stigma and accept mental health as any other physical health condition we have.”

Yasmin has also brought her knowledge to serve the Jamat. She has been invited by Girls Guides and various Jamati institutions to speak to the Jamat on mental wellbeing and recently delivered a talk on mindfulness, a stress-relieving strategy focused on being present and attentive to one’s current state.

Yasmin expressed how grateful she feels to be a nurse, particularly during the time of Covid, as there is currently a strong need for healthcare professionals.

“Doctors and nurses are on the front lines, and they have helped the Jamat so much during this time. It was our expertise and commitment that helped us to work during Covid,” she said. “I am feeling so honoured and blessed that we are healthcare professionals and were able to contribute to the Jamat and outside of the Jamat.”