In Loving Memory - Sanchita Islam

Sanchita appeared in MMHA, one morning in early 2016, lugging an over-sized suitcase, with 2 toddlers in tow, one about 2 years old, and the other about 4 plus. I was in the office then attending to some work. She introducedherself as an artist, writer, and film producer from UK, following her husband who had moved to work in Malaysia. She was very forthright in declaring that she is a person living with mental illness and had recently published her latest book "Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too".

Sanchita had found out about MMHA from our website and took a cab to reach us. She wanted to explore how she could work with MMHA to promote better mental health awareness in the country with various project proposals, one of which was a scroll-art project. She then pulled out a scroll from her suitcase and rolled out a 10x0.5 meter piece of art work she had done in a project in the UK. She also showed many art works in her suitcase, and some art work on 4x4 inch papers, transformed from scribbles of her elder son.

She proposed to do a similar scroll project for MMHA, with clients attending our Psychosocial Rehab programme (now renamed Wellness and Recovery Programme). She was very persuasive, giving all the reasons how the project can help to enhance our clients' mental wellbeing, self-esteem, dignity and pride, in being able to create art with her guidance.

MMHA eventually engaged her for the project although one or two grumbled at he cost. The project took several sessions over a 3-week period. Every client drew something on the scroll, working simultaneously on their assigned space. One just drew straight lines in different directions, while some drew flowers, birds, hills and clouds in the sky, but Simon one of the clients, drew his favourite subject - robots. Sanchita took another few weeks to transform those random sketches by the clients into a piece of very attractive art with her overlay touch-ups on every sketch on the scroll.

From that time onwards, Sanchita was in contact with me and MMHA. I learnt that she had received several international grants for art projects and making short feature films. She had also held many solo art exhibitions in UK, Europe, and spoke at he House of Commons advocating mental health for women. I was really impressed with her enthusiastic and enterprising spirit.

Sanchita was involved in giving mental health talks in several MMHA events. I arranged for her to speak on BEM radio, and also at the Asia Pacific Mental Health conference in Singapore in 2016, as a delegate from MMHA. I had the opportunity to be out with her on a few occasions, mostly meeting up for lunch. One of her favourite places was lunch at the Temple of Arts in Brickfields.

Over the years, Sanchita's condition waxed and vaned. She was sometimes very highly energised and delusional, but most times, she was calm and rational. She was not on medication and relied on her creative energies to control her delusional symptoms. Eventually, she accepted treatment but was not compliant to medications. However, she could still travel on her own and left for Brussels at the end of 2022, where she has an apartment, and to London.

Towards 2023, her condition deteriorated. She was very disturbed and had to be hospitalised in Brussels for several weeks. The artworks she sent by Whatsapp were very disorderly with dark themes. She called a few times, saying she missed her children and wanting to come back to see them. However, I understand her illness condition did not allow her to travel long distance.

There were no more calls after a while which left me wonder and fearing for the worst. True enough, I received the sad news from Ola, her husband that she had passed away on 3 July 2023 in Manchester, where her mother lives. What a sorrowful loss, Sanchita - a great and gifted artist, and comrade in mental health advocacy. On behalf of the Malaysian Mental Health Association, we wish to record our deepest and heartfelt condolence to Ola and the children, Senna and Luca. May her spirit Rest in eternal Peace. 

Tribute by: 
Datin Dr. Ang Kim Teng
Past President and Past Hon. Secretary General (2008-June 2023)
Malaysian Mental Health Association 

Note: More information on Sanchita's art works can be found