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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Turbulent 2020’s ‘World Mental Health Day’ is more important than ever


It’s safe to say 2020 has been a struggle on many levels, and this has given even more value to this year’s World Mental Health Day.

World Mental Health Day is observed on the 10th of October every year with the overall aim of raising awareness of mental health issues globally in a bid to galvanise more support.

The day provides an opportunity for those who are active in the field to share more detailed insight into their work and openly discuss the steps needed to ensure care for mental health is accessible for people across the world. 

First celebrated on the 10th of October 1992 at the initiative of The World Federation for Mental Health, every year focuses on a particular theme, this year being: “More for mental health: increased investment in mental health.” 

Every year, millions of us experience and overcome mental health challenges, however this year has been particularly challenging. Now more than ever, in what has been a turbulent 2020, mental health has come to the forefront as one of the most important conversations.

Young and old, individuals and corporations, personal bank accounts and the global economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted all of our lives greatly and forced many of us to change the ways we live. 

Read also: Why we should add ‘trauma’ to our vocabulary in the Arab world

This year has been especially difficult for healthcare professionals, all of whom have faced extra pressure, as well as key workers that have no choice but to continue work as usual with the added fear of catching the novel coronavirus.

For others, full-time work has penetrated into home and family life, proving to be a struggle especially for those with children at home. For the youth, education has transferred to the online world – a severe detriment to the quality of education. The pandemic has also seen an increase in domestic violence, redundancies and financial difficulties for millions across the globe.

All of the aforementioned are likely to last for a number of months to come, and it is clear to see the world will have to witness a re-building phase to transition back into life as we know it. But the good thing is, there has been an increase in demand for professional mental health support throughout the pandemic.

“It’s important to remember to be gentle with yourself in the process and understand that there is no one way to manage mental health.”

At last, mental health is a prominent topic and there is growing evidence that specialist services are needed more than ever. Despite sessions no longer being held face to face, there is comfort for many knowing they can access support from their own homes. Phone and video meetings can give us a feeling of flexibility, anonymity and result in less anxiety around seeking help, in turn encouraging more people to take that all-important step.

In May 2020, Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health and Hamad Medical Corporation launched a helpline to provide support for people experiencing mental health problems as a result of the pandemic. This prompt and essential response stepped in at the perfect time to help residents of the country while in the midst of a nationwide lockdown. Since then, a number of mental health-focused events have popped up across the country, including Qatar Museum’s art therapy and the #BigBMeetUp virtual event to mark World Mental Health Day.

More recently, Sidra Medicine launched an innovate Mothers and Babies project to introduce a cognitive behavioural intervention that has been proven to work with pregnant women at risk of depression and anxiety worldwide.

The perinatal health clinic – one of the first of its kind in Qatar but it is also one of few in the region – seeks to deliver the globally known yet regionally-new Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach to a Middle Eastern culture.

It’s clear to see that great strides are being taken towards understanding mental health in Qatar and the region. But while all of these moves are essential to raise awareness and normalise healthy conversations on mental health, it’s also important for people to be equipped with immediate knowledge on how to help themselves, especially as we continue through this turbulent year.

We all experience various feelings at different times in our lives; these may range from stress, anxiety, fear, anger and sadness. While these feelings can come and go, it is useful to be mindful of ways to cope with such feelings if they become overwhelming. 

Sometimes we are not even aware of our feelings and they take form as physical symptoms such as sweating, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and trembling. 

Some of the ways we can deal with these emotions are: 

  • Positive self-talk: “I am good enough”.. “I have a long way to go but I am proud about how far I have come”.. “I am worthy”
  • The 478 deep breathing technique: Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8. 
  • Exercising 
  • Practising mindfulness 
  • Speaking to a close friend or family member 
  • Contacting your local GP and discussing a referral to a specialist mental health service

No two of us are the same, and different techniques may work better for some more than others. It’s important to remember to be gentle with yourself in the process and understand that there is no one way to manage mental health. 

Useful links for those searching for help:

  • To access the helpline, which is available from 7am to 10pm every day, members of the public can telephone the toll free number, 16000.
  1. Call 16000
  2. Press for English
  3. Press for HMC Medical Services
  4. Press for Medical Consultation

Mental health staff manning the helpline speak a range of languages and every effort will be made to enable callers to communicate in their language of choice, where possible.

Reem A. is a youth worker with experience in supporting vulnerable young people that have gone through criminal justice or social care systems.

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