Dr. Ashraf is one of the most successful Health Entrepreneurs of Bangladesh. He's the Founder and Managing Director of Lifespring Limited, the leading private mental health care services provider.
He is also the Chairman of Hope Autism School, the leading schools on Autism in Bangladesh and the Vice Chairman of Let's Talk Foundation.
Dr. Ashraf has more than hundred write-ups on current mental health related topics published on Daily newspapers and magazines.
Please watch a short video on his life journey and don't miss to read his full interview with Inspirational Beings team to know his hardships and a fight with difficult challenges. How he rejected international scholarship and decided to become caregiver of his society than opting for his personal growth in a foreign land.
Please tell us about your childhood & family background?
My childhood memory is precious to me. It was a blessing of growing up in an emotionally connected community. Like other children, being a child surely 'play' was my occupation! I was passionate about football.
I spent my early childhood in Dublin, Ireland, where my father was doing his Ph.D. at that time. Now he is Professor & Dean of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology. My mother is a housewife, my first teacher, a loving soul. My younger brother is an Electrical Engineer who is now working in the U.S.A. I am a father of 3 children. My loving wife is a doctor by profession.
Please tell us about how you tackled the situation of your daughter’s diagnosis of Coronal Craniosynostosis?
My would-be wife had some problems for which she couldn't become a mother. I knew it from the start. I told myself- I need to prove my humanity not to the whole world but a single person only. It's my choice whether I'll leave her in despair or stand by her side. So even after knowing that she'll never be a mother, for the sake of her mental health, I decided to take all the responsibilities although I was only in my third year then. I convinced my family. In May 2007, we married.
The treatment for infertility was an intense mental war for us. After much trying, in the third year of our marriage, we were blessed with our first child. The doctor told us, "She's your miracle child. Take good care of her." Mashia's birth was a medical miracle
Only five months were left for our final exam. My wife was in Chittagong Medical College. So against such odds, I had to send her back to Chittagong. I promised her it's for five months only. Then we three will be together always. Only 21 days after her delivery, she had to return to her hostel. I promised her that I'd look after our daughter.
Due to the immense pressure that looms during the final exam, the thought never came to me whether or not I'll be able to take care of her with my inexperienced hands. With books in hand and daughter on the shoulder - I took preparation for the exam. But the truth is we developed a powerful bond of friendship. I was both her father and mother then.
But the problem wasn't solved even after the exams. My wife's internship posting couldn't be transferred to Dhaka. My daughter couldn't adopt in Chittagong as well. So she had to stay with me. Almost for two years, I raised her. Everyone called me by "Kushal Bhai, seeing this, she also started to call me "Kutal Bhai." Yes, those two years were the best days of my life.
Although we were detached, we were a happy family. But only months after her birth, she was diagnosed with Coronal Craniosynostosis. Our whole world seemed to come to an end. The thought of our child succumbing to mental retardation gradually almost destroyed me. The doctor gave an ultimatum of two years. I prayed to God to return our daughter to us. I used to play the flute, loved to play the tabla too. For her well being, I even thought of abandoning them permanently.
My daughters diagnose of coronal craniosynostosis at her first year of life. All her fontanelles were prematurely closed. 'Repeated convulsion may lead to mental retardation' - was her doctor's assumption. As a father, I think it pulled me into a very tough situation at that period of my life.
God has heard my prayers; he didn't deprive a father of his daughter. He has kept Mashia safe. Our daughter is one of the few Coronal Craniosynostosis survivors.
Why did you think of founding Lifespring & denying P.H.D. in Japan? I was very much passionate about research. on that ground, that opportunity of being a researcher (P.H.D. holder) in Japan through Monbusho Scholarship was a golden opportunity for me but I decided to be a psychiatrist. I wanted to do something for all those children with a special condition. After what I've been through with my daughter, I find it as my responsibility. So I chose to become a neuroscientist and caregiver for the society than opting for P.H.D. in Japan. Then I got a chance in M.D. Residency at BSMMU. I couldn't wait for being a prominent psychiatrist one day and come to people's aid. I wanted to make my dreams come true. So having that in mind, I started to work. I launched a mental health institution named "Lifespring." I dream of doing a lot in the field of mental health. As the chairman of "Hope Autism School," I'm working with autistic children.
The other reason is in my country-Bangladesh, mental health is very much stigmatized. Millions of people are suffering. We have a massive crisis of resource persons & professionals in this field comparing to the population. People neither have any awareness regarding the issue nor have any idea where to go.
Here seeking care for physical health is ok, but mental healthcare is considered as a luxury.
I felt if we have to change the scenario, then we must work together, precisely to create a buzz, to create a platform to give voice to all those pain & sufferings that are hidden, yet profound.
With a vision to preach mental health as a pivotal of our overall well being, I came up with the idea of establishing a mental healthcare institute called Lifespring at that time, which is now considered as the leading & most impactful mental health institution in private sector of Bangladesh.
After all these years reaching to thousands to people, seeing the transformation in their lives, I feel good & I have no regret for my decision of rejecting that scholarship in japan — moreover, it's my reason of waking up from bed every day with a great sense of responsibility.
What are the best and worst experience while running Lifespring? The motto of LifeSpring is 'Healing hearts, transforming lives.' Transformation/change doesn't happen by accident or pure luck. It requires patience, discipline, motivation, confidence and an unwavering belief in our ability to recreate a better life for ourselves; one that allows us to be in alignment with our purpose and our higher selves. That's where we help people! The best part of doing lifeSpring is witnessing thousands of such transformation! People are getting their lost confidence back, rediscovering their purpose of life, fighting back with negativity & trying to be impactful. I consider this as the best part of running LifeSpring. As I have already mentioned, mental health is hugely stigmatized in our country, seeking help in this regard is often considered as a luxury! Lots of our patients hide from their family that they are consulting with a professional from the fear that they will be ridiculed, will be considered incapable/weak or even mad!
This ignorance hurts & maybe that's why I call this my worst experience.
Any limitations did you face in this work? I think the lack of sufficient funding in mental health is a huge limitation. Stigma itself is a limitation. We have a massive shortage of resource persons in this field compared to the need. So LifeSpring is working from scratch accepting that this journey is never comfortable.
What is your motivation/mantra in life? I live on a famous saying of Helen Keller - "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."
For the last five years, I've counseled many students from D.M.C. I've made notes of all of their mental states with great care. I tried to show them the meaning of life. Not all of us can be successful in what we dream of. So may it be that we never leave them behind, never forget to give them the love they deserve, never forget to tell that no matter what you'll succeed in life. Our greatest fault lies in not loving ourselves as a human being. We should never despair about what life didn't give us, but we should be grateful for what life has blessed us.
What do you want to achieve further ? I dream of improving the mental well being of every person of Bangladesh within the next five years. I imagine LifeSpring being one of the leading mental healthcare organizations in the world through its services, research & advocacy by ten years.
We have an online platform named. Let's talk through that our services can be availed online. I want to scale up these facilities to reach more & more people throughout the world, beyond the geographical barrier, giving people in need the confidence that - 'You are safe & mental health is at your doorstep!'
This story is supported by Azraf Nazmi, Bangladesh