“On the 10th of October each year, people around the world mark World Mental Health Day. This year, Qatar launched a campaign lead by the Supreme Council of Health to encourage people to care for their mind, as well as their body. Throughout October, health service providers across Qatar are helping to disseminate this message and educate people about the importance of mental health. Here at Sidra Medical and Research Center, we are committed to being a part of such campaigns which in my opinion, are much-needed; as all too often this vital aspect of wellbeing goes undiscussed – and potentially untreated – because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
In December 2013, Qatar announced its comprehensive approach to delivering mental health care – Qatar’s National Mental Health Strategy: Changing Minds, Changing Lives – a first of its kind in the Arab world; which broke new ground for the region. It is based on recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and sets out a five-year plan to design and build a broad and integrated system to promote good mental health and wellbeing, delivering quality services to the people of Qatar. The need for this strategy was underlined by research which suggests that as many as one in five people in Qatar suffer from a mental health problem at any one time. In fact, it is thought that this figure may underestimate the size of the problem because of underreporting of mental health problems due to the stigma associated with them.1
As a member of Qatar’s National Mental Health Strategy Implementation Committee and having been heavily involved in drafting the strategy, it is important to me personally to support initiatives and campaigns that will ensure a healthy future for our people. Setting out this strategy is a huge step forward and now it is up to us – all of us – to make it a reality by working together and rethinking our attitudes about mental health.
The model of mental healthcare provision has a significant impact on the setting in which such care is delivered. Current treatment in Qatar is often offered in an exclusive hospital setting rather than in a community setting. A ‘balanced system of care’ involves different spectrums including primary care, community mental health services and in-patient care. Qatar’s mental health strategy aspires to increase the capacity of the community to achieve good mental health and to respond to mental health issues effectively, with understanding and openness.
Community mental health services can be in the form of formal services (community mental health teams, day care centers, residential rehabilitation and recovery services and out-patient clinics) to informal services where the help and participation of family members, self-help services and faith leaders are sought.
We are a nation with a strong culture that centers on the concept of close families and communities, and it is to our family members we turn to when we need help. Therefore, the best place to start rethinking our approach to mental health is within our own families and communities. Conditions such as anxiety and depression are common, but would you know how to spot their signs in a family member? By educating ourselves about mental illnesses and the signs to look out for, we can help with the wellbeing of those we love.
The shift in focus from hospital to community settings will also help address some of the challenges and stigma many families feel towards seeking help in an institutional setting.
By looking out for the mental wellbeing of our relatives and discussing mental health with family members, we can all take a step toward making sure that those suffering from mental health problems get the timely support and treatment they need. Furthermore, we can share in their journey to healing and recovery and celebrate their wellbeing with them.
Making mental wellbeing a family and community matter will have another benefit: children will learn from an early age that it is okay to talk about mental health and the stigma that has surrounded the topic will be eroded for the next generation. Just like adults, children and teenagers can suffer from mental health problems and timely diagnosis and treatment for young people is vital.
Mental health services for children will also be a focus for Sidra. An important part of the work we do will be aimed at raising awareness of children’s mental health issues and offering the right treatment at the right time. Happy and healthy children are key to the wellbeing of every family, as well as to the future of our nation. This cannot be accomplished, however, without ensuring the health of our young mothers. While the birth of a new child is one of the most joyful events that any family can experience, for some mothers it can also be marred by post-partum depression.
Post-partum depression – sometimes referred to as ‘the baby blues’ – is a very common after-effect that can impact mothers after childbirth. If left untreated, it may affect their ability to care for their babies and can also lead to other serious mental health issues.
Post-partum depression is talked about so rarely in the region that it is hard to find comprehensive statistics on this topic. Sidra aims to change this, which is why last year we hosted a Sidra Symposia Series event to discuss the diagnosis and treatment of post-partum depression and the provision of services in Qatar for women affected by the condition. This was the first of many Sidra initiatives designed to share some of our world-class medical expertise with colleagues and peers in the country.
As a hospital and research center focusing on the health of women and children, addressing the mental health care needs of pregnant women and that of children, will be a part of the overall service of care covered by our team of highly experienced specialist consultants, nurses and support staff. Over the coming years, we will work with other healthcare providers and the people of Qatar to treat mental illness, educate the population about maintaining good mental health, and address the stigma that persists around mental illness.
The approach to mental health care in Qatar is set to be transformed. At the same time, I hope that peoples’ attitudes to mental illness will also change to create an environment in which everyone can access the care they need without fear or stigma. But that can only happen if we all play our part.
The above opinion piece appeared in Gulf Times on October 30, 2014.