SHINING A LIGHT ON MENTAL HEALTH IN THE MIDDLE EAST
There is still much that needs to be done to lessen the stigma of mental health and improve support to those that need it, writes LightHouse Arabia’s managing director
THERE IS STILL TOO LITTLE PROVISION TO SUPPORT MENTAL HEALTH, BUT THERE IS PLENTY OF SCOPE FOR WORKPLACES TO PLAY A PART IN SUPPORTING EMPLOYEES WHO NEED IT, AS WELL AS CREATING A WORKING ENVIRONMENT THAT IS CONDUCIVE TO BETTER MENTAL WELLBEING, SAYS DR. SALIHA AFRIDI, PSYD, A CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND THE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE LIGHTHOUSE ARABIA, A LEADING SPECIALIST CENTRE FOR SUPPORTING PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
How can workplaces support mental health as part of their CSR policy?
There needs to be a culture shift. We still have a very outdated way of thinking about mental health. This is apparent by the way we think about medical insurance which allows for claims to be made on physical health issues, but mental health is very often not part of the medical insurance policy.
One of the quickest and most obvious ways a company can make the shift towards wellbeing and mental health is to include it mental health care in their medical insurance policy.
Another way is to include mental health awareness and prevention campaigns as part of the company’s internal communications and make sure all stakeholders within the company are included and involved.
Finally, businesses should consider training HR and individuals within the team to be mental health first aiders. We know that one out of four people worldwide struggle with a mental health problem within their lifetime, but the majority of those will not be detected or treated. We also know that every 40 seconds someone in this world dies by suicide. Knowing these facts, we can do our very best to train people to detect mental health problems. Early detection is as close to prevention as we can get.
In many regions, provisions for mental healthcare come secondary to those for physical healthcare. What can be done to address this imbalance?
Within society, public campaigns to raise mental health literacy and building awareness of mental health issues are a great way to start the conversation and to diffuse existing stigma around mental health difficulties. Having prominent people championing the agenda can help reduce the stigma.
The leadership must be a critical component of shifting any culture, especially in regards to mental health. Having those in leadership become champions of mental health, encouraging people to get help and sharing what they themselves do to cope. This changes the cultural narrative from being that of “we might lose our job if we discuss our challenges” to “it’s okay to talk about it.”
What is The LightHouse Arabia, what does it offer clients, and what is its mandate and philosophy?
The LightHouse Arabia’s philosophy is to enable human potential by eliminating internal barriers to that potential. Human potential is essentially values driven by actions minus interference.
Our goal is to help individuals quieten the interference caused by difficult emotions such as anxiety and depression and make decisions that are anchored in their values.
One of the challenges to people accessing the support they need is the stigma in the region that surrounds accessing mental health support. So our goal at The LightHouse Arabia is also is to raise awareness about mental health and holistic wellbeing. It is so clear when people go through a journey of introspection and reflection that they feel transformed and they experience life like they have never before.
How a business or company can connect with The LightHouse Arabia to allow a transparent route to their staff who may need support or services?
It is a separate channel from the company’s internal systems. Employees contact The LightHouse Arabia separately, book their appointments, and everything is confidential and not shared with the employer, even if they claim in from their insurance.
There are some companies who book appointment slots to avoid waiting time and to get their employee immediate access to a therapist – even in this case, the name of the individual is not revealed to the employer and all bookings and payments are done confidentially.
Why is mental health stigmatized, especially in this region?
The stigma of seeking therapy for mental health difficulties is not only prevalent in Middle Eastern regions but around the world and with people of all ages and backgrounds. Mental health is stigmatized because there is a lack of awareness amongst the general public about what depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems look like.
There are also cultural reasons why people do not get mental health treatment and support. One of these is the perception that it shows a weakness in faith. Sadness or worry are considered a sign of weakness in faith and, for example, “Don’t worry, just pray” is something people hear when they are reporting very clinical symptoms of anxiety. And yes, spirituality is an important factor in good mental health, but it does not account for everything and there are times you need professional treatment.
For a lot of men especially, asking for ‘help’ is admitting weakness and in many Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, men cannot show weakness. Viewing therapy as a weakness has a lot to do with societal norms and expectations. Even now, we see men who believe that emotions are only to be felt by women, and seeking help is a sign of weakness. This is because they were raised within cultures that endorsed the ‘big boys don’t cry’ philosophy and phrases like ‘don’t act like such a girl’ are used when a boy expresses sensitivity or sadness.
The only emotions men are allowed to feel is worry and anger – which is why in many men depression and anxiety actually manifests as anger and stress.
There is also the prevailing attitude that
‘we don’t talk about personal things with people outside family’. We live in collectivistic cultures, and ‘what people will say’ is still very much a phrase that guides social behaviour.
I think we are still very outdated in the way we look at overall health. If we cannot see the problem with the naked eye or with an MRI, we don’t believe it exists. We have a long way to go till we realise the importance of mental health on a person’s physical health.
Over 80 percent of primary care health visits are stress related. Furthermore, stress is related to the top six causes of death that include heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. We have all the research but we ignore it because we cannot ‘see the problem’.