Throughout the course we have discovered the impacts and effects of trauma in a multitude of sectors and communities. We have focused on trauma in children, trauma in those who have experienced significant traumatic events both personally and professionally, and the necessary implementation of mental health interventions and the removal of stigma for those who are struggling.
Though, I want to make the assertion that the whole concept, trend, and awareness of “mental health issues” is predominantly a western phenomenon and something that is not widely accepted in other regions of the world. Today, I want to focus on the emergence of the mental health field in the Gulf-Arab states, where I am from (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) from both an anecdotal perspective, as well as a research perspective.
A study conducted in 2021 by a group of Gulf-Arab researchers focused on understanding the awareness of the general public by asking what they know about mental health. This inquiry was labeled as MHL, or mental health literacy. This study analyzed over 27 studies conducted in the region engaging over 16,000 people. They concluded that the majority of people, including health professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) know little to nothing about mental health or even acknowledge it as being a real diagnosable problem. As well, a general negative attitude about the topic was uncovered which relates directly to my anecdotal experience.
Culture: In the Gulf-Arab states, we come from a region which is heavily rooted in religion and tradition. We come into this life following the Islamic path, which clearly outlines our responsibilities in this life. Marry, have children, take care of yourself and your family, die and inshAllah go to heaven if you have been good in this Dunya (lifetime). We also tend to be quite a judgmental group of people. This is linked to many things including our small local communities. In the United Arab Emirates actual locals, Emiratis are only 11% of the population- which makes us a close-tight knit community involved in everyone’s business.
Though, the mental health stigma comes from religion. Some people believe that if you are depressed or anxious- you are not praying enough to god. Prayer is often a suggested solution for those who are deeply struggling. We also hold beliefs about the evil eye… the idea that somebody can envy you from afar, and that this leads to downfalls in your individual life- which require prayer to protect you. Some people also believe in the presence of Jinn (shapeshifters and entities that look and function like humans, but have freewill and can obey or disobey god leading to consequences for the people around them)… like being possessed or mentally controlled by Jinn.
These concepts may sound crazy to some, but this is the society we grew up in. Furthermore, we have strong traditional gender roles and in particular for men- the stigma surrounding mental health is enormous. So enormous that the emergence of this field didn’t even occur in our nation until recently with the influx of expats (foreign workers living here).
The thing is, just because we don’t acknowledge a problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Absolutely and undeniably we have people suffering here from a wide variety of mental health issues, and I am thankful that overtime this field is gaining prominence because religion doesn’t solve every problem. True chemical imbalances exist, true traumatic experiences have affected people and stunted their development, etc.
I think that there is a direct conflict between traditional islamic values and the field of mental health but that is something to be dealt with culturally and internally as opposed to removing access to those who are struggling because of religious beliefs.
Overall, I want to reaffirm that the mental health field is strong and actively existing in the United States, but in many other cultures it isn’t acknowledged or even prevalent.