With World Mental Health Day having just passed last month, it remains extremely important for us to raise awareness for mental health education and fight against the social stigma that unfortunately comes along with it.
Yet, there are still certain areas around the world which patients are shamed for reaching out. Frankly, these parts of the world are ignorant to mental health issues.
The fact of the matter is that mental health disorders do not differ from nation to nation. Despite that approximately 0.3-1% of the world suffer from bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, however, are far more common and affect 10% or more of the world’s population. Simply because individuals do not seek help throughout countries in the Middle East does not mean mental health issues aren’t prevalent. The problem has more to do with stigma, rather than lack of issues. According to a report by the World Health Organization made in 2001 to 2003, almost one out of five Lebanese people suffer from mental illness, and yet, only four percent seek further treatment.
Lebanon isn’t alone either. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses in the Middle East, with many areas being extremely prone to conflict. The thing is, psychology and psychiatry are very dependent on cultural atmosphere. Despite the regularity of this issue, most Middle Eastern governments grant minuscule funds to mental health care. Due to the lack of awareness, people who suffer mental illness have the horrible burden of dealing with the symptoms as well as stereotypes and stigma from their respective societies, which often act as barricades to rehabilitation.
Mental health in this region is often linked to religion, which can be beneficial and detrimental at the same time. Although it can provide patients purpose and protect them from harm, many people are encouraged to deal with their mental health struggles by maintaining a good relationship with God, which can sometimes prevent them from reaching out for the professional help they need.
In my junior year of college, I began to struggle with hypochondria, the obsession and intense fear of possessing an undiagnosed medical condition. I linked every sensation I had to a fatal medical condition, and a few months in, I discovered that it was incredibly difficult to focus and achieve any work, so I decided to return home to Egypt to be with my mother so I could concentrate on healing. I simply needed time to be in the comfort of my own home, to cry at will, or confide in my mother. I also saw a few therapists and psychiatrists, purely talking as much as I could about what I was going through and how I was feeling. To this day, I am incredibly grateful for the depth of understanding my family provided, and how easy it was to talk to people about my struggles. Although I still have a long way to go, I credit them for my recovery to this process. Anybody who is struggling mentally deserves to receive the help they need, meanwhile countries throughout the Middle East must do better in raising awareness and not turn a blind eye to those in need.
There is a great urgency to raise mental health awareness not only in the Middle East, but around the world. Although we have made incredible strides in treatments and understanding mental health as a whole, the fight is far from over. At the very least, we must continue to educate ourselves and be there for each other without judgement or stereotypes.