Nearly two in five (38 per cent) of Arab youth say they know someone with mental health issues, compared to 31 per cent of Arab youth surveyed in 2019.
Social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused an increase in stress, anxiety and depression, generating an urgent need to manage the lack of physical access to therapy and treatment.
Findings from the recent Arab Youth Survey highlight the concerns of young Arabs on the lack of access to quality mental healthcare in the region, and the need for governments to invest in education and awareness campaigns and make quality mental health care more affordable.
According to this year’s findings, nearly two in five (38 per cent) of Arab youth say they know someone with mental health issues, compared to 31 per cent of Arab youth surveyed in 2019.
A majority (56 per cent) of Arab youth also said it was difficult to get quality medical care for mental health issues in their country – such as young Palestinians (85 per cent), Yemenis (80 per cent), and Syrians (77 per cent).
Further, nearly half (48 per cent) of Arab youth say seeking medical care for mental health issues is viewed negatively by most people in their country. The social stigma associated with seeking mental health care is highest in Morocco (76 per cent), Lebanon (72 per cent) and Libya (70 per cent).
Sunil John, president – Middle East of BCW and founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “Last year, for the first time, our survey shed light on the topic of mental health – an issue that had not been widely discussed in the region. With the World Economic Forum highlighting that the economic cost associated with mental illness is the largest of any health issue and set to reach $6 trillion per year by 2030 globally, timely access to quality mental healthcare is of critical importance. Yet, as our survey shows the region does not appear to have made much progress in addressing this issue.”
Dr Karuna Anand, consultant psychiatrist at Canadian Specialist Hospital, said the lack of clear knowledge and facts about various mental diseases have created uncertainties, leading to a major need for mental health intervention.
“Going through the history of major devastating events of wars, natural disasters and pandemics has taught us that humans vary in their response to stress. As we know, not every soldier returned from a war developed post-traumatic stress disorder. What made the difference? In short, reliance is the ability of a person to emerge from major stress without becoming malfunctional. As we know, an ounce of prevention is better than a tonne of treatment. This highlights the emerging need to learn more about resilience and how to develop it to protect you from deteriorating quality of life in the aftermath of the pandemic,” she said.
Giving out pointers on how to become resilient in face of stress, Dr Karuna urged people to take advantage of free workshops happening across the city since the arrival of the pandemic, focusing on resilience and emotional wellbeing, creating self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility and establish a connection with people.
Student mental health should be a top priority
Young people often find it difficult to seek help for their mental health, usually due to lack of knowledge and awareness and/or fear of negative reactions from peers. Studies, however, show that mental issues such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders are extremely common among students. Stress from exams, peer pressure and pressure from family to do well at university all have a role to play.
Recent studies show that one in five students have a mental health diagnosis – nearly half say they’re often anxious, and a third are frequently lonely. According to the Global Disease Burden (2017), depressive and anxiety disorders are among the top 10 health problems that cause the most disability in the UAE.
Moreover, a 2019 YouGov survey revealed that three in five (60 per cent) UAE residents believe that promoting mental wellness through well-being activities in families, educational institutions and communities is the most effective way to eliminate the stigma attached to mental health issues.
Making note of the disturbing statistics, Heriot-Watt University – Dubai appointed a team whose sole responsibility is to ensure the mental wellbeing of students. “The last few months have been challenging for many of us, but more so for students. The sudden transition to online learning and reduced offline interactions with peers was a huge change,” said Prathna Singh, student wellbeing advisor, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
“We scaled up the wellbeing resources available to our students, which includes easy access to trained professionals who are qualified to provide emotional support to students,” she added.
“It is also important to remember that anyone can experience difficulties with their mental health. Just as the body becomes vulnerable, the mind too can be adversely impacted by various factors.”
Key technologies supporting mental health management
>Telehealth: Video consultations play a crucial role in continuing treatment and therapy sessions. There has been widespread adoption of telehealth services, and it is useful in disease management. Reimbursements for teleconsultations have also been a key driver. In 2020, the telehealth market is likely to experience a tsunami of growth, resulting in a year-over-year increase of 64.3 per cent in the US.
>Patient engagement tools: Mental health apps are useful in lessening the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. Frost & Sullivan estimates there are over 10,000 consumer-facing mobile apps globally, and not all are leveraged and promoted by healthcare providers.
> Data analytics: Healthcare data gathered by telehealth and mobile app solutions must be converted into insights to offer a customised and preventive care approach.
> Artificial intelligence: AI-powered chatbots can screen for symptoms, provide feedback, and connect patients to psychiatrists for counselling or treatment.
> Virtual reality: Gamification offers an immersive experience to increase the overall effectiveness and adherence to treatments. Patients can navigate through the simulation to achieve a task as part of their treatment plan.
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