The stigma of Mental Health in MENA needs a new approach
10 August, 2022 7 min read

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COVID-19 has left deep social and psychological scars in the MENA region, with rising numbers of loneliness, isolation, and economic despair. All stakeholders have an opportunity to utilize new technologies to reach the most vulnerable.

 

Just over a year after the start of the pandemic, it is clear that Covid-19 is affecting our long-term health and well-being. According to GIG Gulf’s 2021 Pulse Health Survey, carried out jointly with research firm Ipsos, more than a third of people (34%) say their health has deteriorated during the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey examines the impact of Covid-19 on people’s health and well-being and covers fourteen countries and territories from around the world including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

 

Generally, women have fared worse than men; they are more likely to feel tired, to suffer from stress and to have trouble sleeping – all factors that may damage long-term health. At the same time, going to the doctor has become harder. An astonishing 62% of those surveyed say they have had problems getting treatment because of the pandemic. Fear of contracting Covid-19 is preventing many from visiting clinics or undergoing necessary surgeries. Many of those with chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease have seen their conditions worsen. It is also clear that lockdown measures are taking their toll. Levels of stress and anxiety have risen sharply. 30% of those surveyed say they have suffered from psychological problems since the start of the pandemic, more than any other condition. People are worried, not only about their health, but also about the economic consequences of the crisis that have impacted their jobs and livelihoods.  Younger people are most at risk – 42% say they have had psychological problems since the Covid-19 outbreak began. In Europe, anxiety has worsened because of fears relating to health systems being overwhelmed. 38% of the participants mentioned that they are not sleeping as well – 45% admit their overall fitness level has deteriorated and 38% have seen their weight increase.

 

Virtual emotional well-being

In light of this, there is an urgent need for us to collectively rethink strategies that will help us tackle this ever-evolving global health crisis. One of the key strategies includes access to virtual well-being and mental health services, which has undoubtedly become essential. With the ability to engage in virtual sessions – from the comfort and privacy of one’s home – with psychologists based anywhere in the world, this outlet for addressing the growing psychological discomfort is becoming a necessity for millions, especially during prolonged periods of isolation.

Recognizing this need, we have witnessed many companies from across the region starting to request access to virtual psychological support for their employees as part of their healthcare insurance packages. By making this service available to employees, organizations are investing in both the well-being of their staff and in the maintenance of corporate performance. Happier, healthier employees are more productive and engaged, which ultimately reduces absenteeism and the costs related to avoidable healthcare claims.

 

Stigma and sensitivities

Utilization of such virtual well-being and mental health services are mainly driven by individuals that have the ability to acknowledge their mental status. This can prove a complicated hurdle in the MENA region where awareness of mental health issues is relatively low. This lack of awareness can result in individuals experiencing chronic stress or emotionally testing situations without seeking professional help. Either because they are unaware of how and when to do so, or for fear of social stigmas and taboo discussions such as suicide; ignoring symptoms of poor mental health can be extremely damaging. Across the region, people are more likely to suppress their psychological problems which ultimately impacts their physical well-being, quality of life and overall health and happiness.

Healthcare providers and insurers have an opportunity to help reduce the stigmas around mental illness and change attitudes towards overall mental health by widening the discussions on the topics. By curating holistic and confidential well-being provisions, their clients and members can feel supported and more able to discuss any psychological issues they may be facing.

 

Saving lives

Recognizing these requirements and benefits, healthcare providers and insurers are beginning to implement a more holistic approach to health and well-being by providing access to quality health services through video and audio consultations as part of their core offerings. For example, GIG Gulf now offers virtual well-being services, which provide the convenience of real-time consultations, cost efficiency, and safety during the current pandemic. These services include access to MindSet, GIG Gulf’s confidential tele-support offering that provides emotional well-being counselling by licensed psychologists.

Moving forward, greater engagement of holistic well-being services will continue to support our healthy recovery and help us become more conscious of some of the health issues that a majority of us face. They will encourage better understanding and increased awareness of the link between mental and physical health, while also educating us about the need for early detection and prevention. For some, this can mean the difference between suicide or survival.