Men­tally ill chil­dren in Kuwait are often iso­lated from the out­side world, according to North­eastern Uni­ver­sity psy­chology stu­dents Alaa and Dalal Alhomaizi, twin sis­ters who grew up in the Arab state.

It’s like they don’t exist,” Alaa said.

As Dalal put it, “A family’s iden­tity can be tar­nished if the com­mu­nity finds out about a men­tally ill rel­a­tive. People would say, ‘This is the family with the crazy girl.’ ”

Last semester, the Alhomaizi sis­ters cre­ated a cul­tur­ally com­pat­ible evidence-​​based cam­paign whose mis­sion is to over­come the stigma attached to mental ill­ness in the Middle East and shed light on the value of psy­chology as a sci­en­tific discipline.

The cam­paign, called SPEAK (Standing for Psy­cho­log­ical Edu­ca­tion and Aware­ness in Kuwait), includes print and tele­vi­sion adver­tise­ments, social media out­reach and a web­site with a dis­cus­sion forum.

The effort has gar­nered sig­nif­i­cant atten­tion from mem­bers of Par­lia­ment in Kuwait, who have praised the twins for re-​​educating Kuwaiti cit­i­zens about mental illness.

It’s time for a cam­paign like ours,” Alaa explained. “People are becoming tired of the same old way.”

The project arose from a class Alaa took called deviant behavior and social con­trol and took shape in a directed study led by Alisa Lin­coln, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of health sci­ences with joint appoint­ments in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties.

But there are still a number of hur­dles to climb: The field of psy­chology in Kuwait, for example, lacks a formal guild to ensure the accu­racy of cre­den­tials and licensing. The country is home to only a few prac­ticing psy­chol­o­gists with PhDs.

We were told that psy­chology was not a real field and that we would turn crazy like our clients if we studied it,” Dalal said.

The twins rou­tinely update their Twitter account with facts and sta­tis­tics about mental ill­ness, which afflicts some 450 mil­lion people throughout the world. One tweet quoted former Pres­i­dent Bill Clinton, who once said, “Mental ill­ness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

SPEAK recently caught the atten­tion of Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital in Boston, which offered the juniors co-​​op posi­tions tai­lored to suit their expertise.

This spring, Alaa and Dalal will begin co-​​ops as research assis­tants for the hospital’s Chester M. Pierce, MD Divi­sion of Global Psy­chi­atry, where they’ll assist with sci­en­tific studies whose results will form the foun­da­tion for mental health policy and prac­tice in low– and middle-​​income countries.

The sis­ters hope to expand the pro­gram into Kuwait. “We want to change mental health poli­cies,” Alaa said.