From trichotillomania patient to Sir Edward Youde Memorial Scholarship winner: the story of Mariam Bibi
Mariam Bibi, a psychology major in her third year at Lingnan University, has been awarded a prestigious Sir Edward Youde Memorial Scholarship 2018/19, which recognises academic excellence and her commitment to helping people with dementia.
“Words cannot describe how honoured and grateful I am to receive such recognition,” Bibi says. “I feel empowered and encouraged to keep working towards my dreams. With the scholarship, I can worry less about living expenses and focus more on volunteering and serving the elderly.”
One of only seven recipients this year of the territory-wide honour for students from eligible local universities, Bibi has overcome an anxiety disorder arising from the stress of public exams and the challenges of being from an ethnic minority in Hong Kong.
She still recalls the time back in secondary school, when gearing up for the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams, as one of the toughest of her life.
“From Secondary 5 until the DSE, I went through a lot of different situations all at once,” she says, noting that she would stay awake revising until 4am. “One was the academic pressure, which led to anxiety problems, and I ended up suffering from trichotillomania [hair-pulling disorder].”
However, staunch support from her mother, who was always there to assist, made it possible to pull through.
“She helps me overcome my anxiety issues and makes sure I never feel alone,” Bibi says. “Without her, I would not have overcome my challenges and been able to deal with the stress. Apart from my mother, I also give myself some credit for riding out the situation. Since then, I have always believed in what I am - a determined, passionate and a patient person. Giving up is never an option for me.”
Those times also made her more understanding and compassionate towards others with some kind of disorder.
“I am concerned about the general lack of awareness about mental health and how badly mental illness is stigmatised all around the world,” she says. “The stereotypes associated with it - and the social prejudice against patients with mental illness - make it a taboo subject, so people don’t speak about it and seek proper consultation in good time.”
While Bibi enjoys and embraces both the Chinese and Pakistani cultures in Hong Kong, she is sometimes disappointed by the negative stereotypes and prejudices that come along with being from an ethnic minority. She notices that people judge things by what they have seen or hear in the media and don’t rely enough on personal experience.
She notes too that, given certain social prejudices, the emotional burden imposed on someone from an ethnic minority group doubles if they suffer from mental health problems.
“I hope to be a mental health counsellor in future, in particular helping people with dementia. It is a growing concern in Hong Kong and the number of patients living with it is on the rise. I especially hope to reach out to those whose first language is neither English nor Chinese.”
She notes that the next step is to start up a project to bring together people with dementia as a community. The aim is to teach them to live beyond dementia through weekly gatherings and to bridge the cultural gap between of different ethnicities who are living with dementia.
“I want them to have a place which they can trust and call their second home,” Bibi says.
In general, she hopes to make life easier for the individuals involved, while also seizing the opportunity to raise awareness and stamp out the stigma surrounding dementia by telling the real-life stories of those who suffer.
Currently on an exchange programme at the University of Leeds in Britain, Bibi sees international learning as another way to promote acceptance and embrace other cultures.
“I have been inspired by the way people promote mental health in the UK and how it is given equal priority with physical health,” she says. “The programme has also reinforced my view that, no matter what, you should always believe in yourself and your abilities. You can then convince others by setting an example and showing how far you can reach.”
Established in 1987, the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fund offers annual scholarships to local undergraduates and diploma students doing full-time programmes. It looks for outstanding academic performance and a demonstrated commitment to society. Each recipient will receive a one-off grant of HK$40,000 this year.