LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Mental health is slowly, but surely, becoming less of a social stigma and better understood medically. Even in the United States progress on such topics is moving slow. It is even slower in developing countries.
The Global Health Middle East reported that 10 percent of people worldwide are affected and suffer from mental disorders, but few receive the treatment needed. Like most medical conditions, those in the Middle East are subject to even less support and assistance.
To be more specific, 10 percent of people worldwide suffer from depression while 1 percent across the globe suffer from schizophrenia. The Middle East and North African countries have the highest levels of mental disorders with East Asia reporting to have the lowest rates.
Though, for the most part, mental disorder rates stay fairly similar around the world, but there are, of course, deviations and differences. Why then, out of the entire world, does the Middle East have the highest rates of mental disorders?
For the same reasons that numerous medical conditions are inflated issues, mental disorders in the Middle East carry strong stigmas socially and culturally. Between stigmas and a lack of medical aid, diagnosis, assistance and mental improvement are hard to come by in the Middle East.
In a review conducted in the Middle East, 42 out of 78 reported barriers were primarily due to stigmas and cultural ways. To many, having a mental disorder is shameful to one’s self and family. On top of that, Western medicine and healing is often looked down upon in such cultures where traditional, religious healers are preferred.
But even for those willing to seek medical assistance, that option is rarely available to them. Health care for physical sicknesses is lacking and just starting to grow. Professional help for mental illnesses are even more discrete.
The sad truth is that few people in these areas would know who and where to turn to for the help needed for mental illnesses. Because of uncertainties of where to turn to and a lack of options, many people have turned to neighbors with willing ears.
The New York Times recently told the story of Farkhunda Shahab. Ms. Shahab is one of only five female therapists in the province of Kapisa within Afghan, but she has minimal formal training on mental health. Despite this, women travel from long distances to have her listen to them and lead them in meditation.
Ms. Shahab herself deals with the struggles of living in Afghan, but she understands the importance of helping the people, mostly women, around her that struggle with mental issues.
However, there are campaigns such as Time to Change and Big White Wall in the Middle East that have the potential to redirect how mental disorders are perceived. Though still limited, it will take campaigns such as these to alter how mental disorders are handled and assisted not only in the Middle East, but around the world.
Moving forward with issues that are surrounded by stigmas is not always simple or fast. Moving forward is necessary, though. With reports such as more than 800,000 registered refugees in Lebanon that suffer from severe depression and anxiety, there is no question about whether mental disorder aid is worthwhile.
Progress will require techniques that integrate health, awareness and the cultural expectations in varying locations. By matching these techniques with the necessary resources, change and improvement can be made in the lives of thousands.
– Katherine Wyant