Despite the fact that a fifth of Qatar’s population is affected by mental illness, few appear to be seeking treatment, in part because of the social stigma surrounding the condition, the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) told journalists yesterday at the launch of the country’s first National Mental Health Strategy.
According to the report:
“Research conducted (but not yet published) in Qatar suggests mental health issues are common and that 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental illness at any given point in time. Additionally, three of the top five causes of disability in Qatar are mental health issues.”
How healthcare providers aim to tackle the problem is laid out in the new five-year strategy, which aims to improve Qatar’s mental health services, and help those who might be suffering from social stigma as a result of their diagnosis.
Plans outlined in the strategy include a new mental health law that should be enacted by December 2015, according to Assistant Secretary General of Medical Affairs at the SCH, Dr. Salih Ali al-Marri.
Al-Marri said that the law would protect the rights of people with mental health issues, to make sure they are treated fairly in the workplace and in a healthcare setting. The report states:
“A study of public perceptions of mental health issues conducted in Primary Health Care Centers has shown that stigma exists in Qatar and that shame and fear of stigmatization often deters individuals and their families from acknowledging mental health issues, and seeking treatment and support. This leads to unnecessary hospitalization and prolonged illness.”
The National Mental Health Strategy, which has a theme of “Changing Minds, Changing Lives,” also contains a 10-point pledge, which includes:
- Raising public awareness about mental health and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness;
- Providing more information about mental health in healthcare centers;
- Educating healthcare professionals so that they can pick up on problems at an early stage (this had already been announced);
- Developing specialist services that meet the differing needs of individuals and groups; and
- Ensuring mental health research evidence translates into improvements in clinical practice and patient outcomes.
Depression is becoming increasingly common in Qatar, affecting both nationals and expats.
When expats are included in the national tally, it’s estimated that about 18 percent of Qatar’s total population has had depression at some point, a significantly higher level than the US at 9 percent, and the UK at 12 percent.
The country’s younger residents are particularly at risk. Earlier this year, a study found that a quarter of all teenagers in Qatar were depressed.
A relatively small percentage of people with mental health problems actually seek help. According to HMC figures, only 25 percent of Qataris and five percent of expats sought out its psychiatric services in 2011.
The SCH says that 20 percent of people seeking help are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, 19 percent with major depressive disorder and 13 percent with other psychiatric disorders. About 10 percent of mental disorders are classified as severe, they add.
The strategy document also assesses the total cost of mental health problems in Qatar – putting it at an estimated QR1.7bn ($467 million) per year.
It also states that three out of six of the “most burdensome diseases” in the country and three of five of the top causes of disability are mental disorders.
The global average for a government mental health budget is 2.8 per cent of total spending.
Although Qatar’s total expenditure on mental health has yet to be released, the 2011 Mental Health Atlas submission states that Hamad Medical Corporation Psychiatric Services represent 1.95 per cent of the country’s health budget. This figure does not include primary health care services or private clinics.
The same document – which, notably, is two years old – also points out some weaknesses in Qatar’s current system:
“The majority of primary health care doctors and nurses have not received official in-service training on mental health within the last five years” is reads. “Officially approved manuals on the management and treatment of mental disorders are not available in the majority of primary health care clinics.
Official referral procedures for referring persons from primary care to secondary/tertiary care exist. However, referral procedures from tertiary/secondary to primary care do not exist.”
Here’s the full report: