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

CEO Middle East - - CON­TENTS -

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’.

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