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Face of mental health in the GCC

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a union of six Arabic states in Persian Gulf, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Recent and rapid changes in region and pressures or strains due to social customs along with strict guidelines have seen mental health in GCC emerge as priority health concern. Surveys highlight scale of suffering among the region’s 200 million Arab youth due to depression, anxiety, and addiction. 

GCC youth’s recognized personal relationships as the biggest source of stress, followed nearly by academic factors. 72 percent of the 1,085 participants in a YouGov poll accepted facing mental health problems. Candidates agreed to seek help or suggested seeking help from a mental-health professional if they or any of their close ones were struggling with an issue. Almost 62 percent individuals acknowledged looking for expert assistance for issues such as suicidal thoughts. 

The United Arab Emirates have also highlighted mental health as a national priority. Department of Health and Medical Services in the UAE started in Dubai in the 1970s to address general health issues in the region, specialized psychological services in 1975 for patients in need. Earlier traditional concepts of mental health in UAE prevailed where treatment was sought by local religious healers known as mutawwah or zaar, a person supposedly skilled in chasing out the devil from the victim. 

UAE is a fast-developing country that is currently welcoming scientific progress in all areas, especially in relation to health. However, the stigma of the word “mental” comes in the way of mental health program development. Research has shown that 75% of psychological conditions in the country are related to anxiety and depression.

Efforts to address mental health issues in UAE

Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) in early 2019 announced the launch of a number of digital solutions and technologies in mental and psychological field. These digital solutions include treatment by using virtual reality technology to help understand schizophrenia. This helps authorities to learn more about suffering of patients with this disease, with the help of Gear by Oculus technology. 10 October is observed every year as World Mental Health Day by Dubai Health Authority’s smart clinic. 

The National Policy for Strengthening Mental Health

The National Policy for the Promotion of Mental Health in UAE identifies five main strategic objectives, which are:

  • Enhancing effectiveness of the promotion of awareness of mental health
  • Developing, strengthening and expanding comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health services for patients of all ages
  • Strengthening multi-sectoral collaboration to implement mental health promotion policy
  • Promoting the prevention of mental disorders for people of all ages
  • Strengthening capacities and improving information systems and conducting mental health research to develop their services.

The MOHAP has opened up several service locations in and around UAE for help during any emergencies. Al Amal Hospital, Kuwait Hospital in Dubai, Al Qasimi Hospital, Kuwait Hospital in Sharjah, Khorfakkan Hospital, Fujairah Hospital, Ibrahim bin Hamad Obaidullah Hospital are the service locations open for people facing issues with mental health in UAE.

Mental health support during Coronavirus Pandemic

The ‘Employees Assistance Programme’ or Hayat (Arabic word for life) is a psychological and moral support programme to help federal government employee’s deal with circumstances and anxiety associated with COVID-19. Ministry of Health and Prevention also established a dedicated hotline to respond to people’s psychological concerns and anxiety related to COVID-19.  

‘The National Campaign for Mental Support’, offers counselling through recorded videos which are posted on the official social media accounts of National Program for Happiness and Wellbeing. The campaign is being promoted with the hashtag, #DontWorry featuring three major components “Let’s Support Together”, “Let’s Reassure Together” and “Let’s Talk Together”.

 An estimated 350 million people around the world are affected by depression. Study proves that more number of women are affected by depression than men. Due to the stigma associated with mental health problems not many people are ready to come forward and seek treatment for it. In the Arab world, it is estimated that 17.7 per cent of the population suffers from depression and this figure is only the tip of the iceberg. Positive initiatives from the UAE ministry has given lot of methods for people to realize and address any issues related to mental health.