Medical professionals from across the Middle East continue the course of breaking barriers when it comes to mental health with a particular focus this month on the feeling of fear everyone dreads…anxiety.
Every year, May is Mental Health Awareness month and it is marked by a series of campaigns covering different themes.
This time in the US, where it was first founded in 1949 by The Mental Health America Organisation, the topic is ‘Look Around, Look Within’ and in Europe it’s ‘Thriving Together’. Bahrain is following in the UK’s footsteps in organising campaigns on tackling ‘anxiety’— a disorder that causes uneasiness, restlessness and tension which can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression and anxiety went up by more than 25 per cent in the first year of the pandemic and the stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against people with mental health conditions continue to be widespread in communities and care systems everywhere.
To tackle this, Dr Mariam Alammadi, a prominent psychologist, founder of The Child and Family Foundation Centre and director of The Middle East Psychological Association’s (MEPA) Bahrain Chapter, and her team is collaborating with renowned psychiatrist Dr Vivek Matthews online to answer questions from the community. People can email questions to [email protected] by May 30 and Dr Vivek will answer them online on May 31.
“Anxiety can be treated with therapy, but in some cases, it can become crippling and an individual may be encouraged to consider medication,” she told GulfWeekly. “We want to give our community the chance to ask Dr Vivek more about any mental health medication and their concerns.”
WHO also stated that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability and people with severe mental health conditions die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, mostly due to preventable physical diseases.
Dr Mariam and the MEPA’s Bahrain Chapter hope to help those in the kingdom better understand mental health by having the courage to talk about it.
“Every year we try to understand any barriers there may be to treatment,” added Dr Mariam who has been working in the field since 2011. “In Bahrain, we know that although there has been so much progress, particularly in the last decade, we still have work to do. There should be no shame involved in visiting a psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist.
“I have patients that can be fearful of anyone seeing them come in and out of the centre. They can also be scared to share with their families that they are in treatment. In my opinion, this is the time they need the support of their loved ones and we must be talking about mental health and encouraging therapy, not only with our youth but also with our older generations.”
To encourage young or old to not shy away from seeking help when needed, Dr Mariam published her first book last year, titled My Therapist & I, Nasser Goes to Therapy.
“Our youth generally understand the benefits,” said Dr Mariam. “But as psychology was not mainstream in Bahrain 20 or 30 years ago, earlier generations do not.
“Bottling up issues and not dealing with them comes out in later life as many individuals have painfully found out. We also need to understand that not getting therapy leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms.”
She also has a range of gratitude-and-mood-tracking journals to help people on their journey to good mental well-being.
The Bahrain Chapter was set up last year with the intent to help mental health professionals and the community.
Meanwhile, MEPA was established in November 2010 in Kuwait to unify psychologists and mental health practitioners in the Middle East as well as provide professional development activities in the form of workshops, training, and public information for both consumers of mental health resources and social service professionals.
MEPA also created an ethics code for mental health practice in the Middle East.
“We have noticed that we need to work on educating our community on the differences between psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists and life coaches,” added Mariam. “This is to ensure that the right professional is selected for their mental health needs. We also want to focus on understanding any difficulties our community is having with accessing mental health services, and provide them with guidance on finding excellent practitioners that they can go to with confidence.”
The Bahrain Chapter also wants to see what areas need help so that they can offer training for mental health professionals too.
Another factor that deters people from working on their mental health is finances, which is why Dr Mariam, for example, has a financial assistance programme at her centre in Umm Al Hassam, that’s run all year-round for anyone struggling with their mental health.
“We will be coming up with some fun fundraising ideas to ensure we can sustain the programme and continue to help our community.”
For details, follow @drmariamalammadi on Instagram.