The art of grasping the attention of people mixed with the passion to reach out and help anyone yearning for a healthier mental state could result in groundbreaking ideas that can really introduce change.
Ahram Online talks to Marian Bahader, founder of the ‘Ma7adesh 2ally’ (Arabic for 'No one told me') Facebook platform on challenging norms and breaking taboos about mental health and helping people enjoy life using heartfelt and honest content and tools.
Tell us briefly about yourself and the source of your passion to reach out to people?
I graduated from Mass Communications at the American University in Cairo and studied MBA at Kingston University in the UK, where I specialised in Strategic Thinking and Marketing.
During my years at AUC, I was the editor-in-chief of the Caravan and I did some freelance journalism for quite some time before working in the advertising and marketing field.
My passion to reach out to help people is inspired by my father, who is my role model. He led a life of purpose and helped many through his profession as a doctor and his involvement in all sorts of charity.
Turning 40 was a key moment of realisation for me, when I asked myself, ‘if I don't start thinking of how my life can have a positive impact now, then when?’
I started Ma7adesh 2ally after the idea had been in my head for over 20 years. Long before Facebook came to life and inspiring videos became mainstream, I tried to create short, inspiring video stories, yet was never able to make it happen at low cost.
As the years went by, I noticed that most of my valuable life lessons and the meaningful content I enjoy and consume on social media is in English. The Arabic content was picking up, but there was still a massive gap when it comes to useful content that is light hearted and not too preachy or too serious.
I felt the Arabic audience is seriously missing out. This, coupled with the fact that as a culture I believe we are sometimes stuck in seriously limited beliefs, made me itch to do something about it. Thus, Ma7adesh 2ally came to life.
Tell us about the scope of your reach, and the meaning behind by the title?
Ma7adesh 2ally is meant to talk to anyone who is open to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking.
Everything I talk about has been truly "life changing" and lived by.
My followers are Arabs all across the Middle East, with Egyptians in Egypt being my main fans. I have around 35,000 followers and the collective views on my videos are around 1 million.
That said, I am not driven by numbers and hardly monitor them. So, you will see from the page that I am all about quality and not quantity.
Ma7adesh 2ally as a name is very reflective of exactly what I talk to the audience about in all the videos. These super helpful life changing notions are not so common. One had to proactively read a book, watch a talk, attend a conference or a workshop or be life coached in them to know about them. So, I am always starting my videos with ‘No One Told Me (video idea) ...’ and ending it with ‘How come no one told me (video idea).’
These notions also challenge limiting cultural beliefs and are meant to help enhance a person's well-being, whether health wise, relationship wise, or when it comes to understanding one's self and how to live with purpose and potential. I really love leaving the viewers with an alternative point of view.
How is your platform different from others that tackle mental health?
It’s very unique because everything I talk about is tried, tested and lived as opposed to being handed over from a professional.
My viewers feel I am one of them – someone trying to make the best of this one life we’re given and sharing all the tools I landed on along the way.
I am also not trying to sell anyone any service, so they feel their wellbeing is truly what I care about most.
I enjoy simplifying rather complex notions in very short, light hearted videos with examples of how applying them has been helpful in my life.
What are the challenges that loom the most in our communities when it comes to mental wellbeing?
Our communities have endless potential to be among the best in the world, but I feel we hold ourselves back with many limiting beliefs. Many people are stuck or suffering because they believe a lie that our culture tells us is the truth.
Whether this is about having to focus on one’s career or you’d be a failure, or having to be good in all subjects at school, having to look and dress a certain way in order to succeed, having to diet irrespective of what is causing your eating disorder, not grieving the dead because it shows poor faith, or approaching relationships from the stance of what to expect to get instead of how to give and accept – the list is endless.
Unfortunately, mental wellbeing is not always a priority as people are busy first and foremost making ends meet. That said, judging by the interaction on my page, I know that people are really hungry for this. They aspire to be mentally healthy and are just not sure where to go or how to start.
What formats do people most interact with on social media, and what does this reflect?
People like short videos that are inspiring and entertaining.
The use of humour tends to help the content fly much easier.
They also enjoy intriguing, deep questions that share new ideas in a visual manner (infographic or picture quotation).
I feel nowadays with everyone on the go (even when locked down at home) and attention spans growing less and less, the quicker, more engaging, more visual the idea is, the more it is well received.
This just reflects the clutter in messages and how only the best, or the ones giving real value, can compete for the share of attention.
How do you help people in these dire times of coronavirus keep their equilibrium?
I talk in a capacity of someone who hasn’t been so well herself till recently. If you are an extrovert who gets energy from being out and about with people, lockdowns can really suck your joy.
That said, what helped me find equilibrium is that I didn’t at all try to distract myself from what was happening or even hold on to my natural default, which tends to be excessively positive. I embraced the notion that what is happening is not normal and therefore trying to act all normal is abnormal
I didn’t compare what I am going through to anyone else. I liked to see many people learning new skills or connecting with old hobbies or old friends, but I didn’t judge myself for lacking motivation to do the same.
My advice to anyone is do not burden yourself by having higher expectations in terms of what you could or should do. Some of us are doing great, and they might feel down later down the line. Others may have started feeling really bad, but are fine now. And some are numb through it all.
Accepting this will go a long way in helping us not further burden ourselves with unrealistic expectations and reaching a balanced state of coping.
Reaching out to help others also has a magical way of bringing purpose and joy to our lives and balancing out negative feelings of being helpless against a pandemic with such massive negative impact.
How would a person get encouraged to open up about getting help with regards to mental health?
Spreading awareness that the world is experiencing collective grief, whether consciously or subconsciously, whether immediate or yet to come, whether on the health, social or financial front, is crucial.
Many have lost loved ones, some were not able to have memorials to honour them, many have fallen ill, some have missed their chance for a proper graduation, or wedding and the like, many have lost their jobs and the list goes on. There are real reasons and triggers of anxiety in almost every household and people need to know they are not alone.
I feel it’s a shared responsibility for everyone. This is why I have been vocal about not being OK from the get-go, with my personal status updates all talking about how ‘it’s OK not to be OK’. If we dismiss this and just focus on pressing ahead as normal, we are not being in touch with humanity at large.
I believe the world will require serious healing for many years to come and it starts with us. Not denying ourselves the right to grieve and deal with this is what we need to talk about more.
This will make it much easier to encourage those around us to seek professional help when things are not so well.
Even though people don’t like sad news or stories, social media also has a role towards spreading the same.
What is in the pipeline for Ma7adesh 2ally, especially amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus epidemic?
Ma7adesh 2ally has a series of new videos coming out.
A main positive side effect of COVID-19 is that it surely has put us all in place, directed our attention to what matters and made us seek joys in the little things in life again.
Some of my new videos are about those things that truly matter in life – as backed by research.
Ma7adesh 2ally will also talk about embracing not being OK and seeking help when needed.
And lastly, throughout the last two months, we have been in touch with different charities to see how we can help, and I will be shooting a series of videos to direct attention to these initiatives while keeping the content in line with the life lessons theme.