Mental health in Saudi Arabia is an urgent concern for the Kingdom’s government. Nearly one-fifth of those seeking healthcare assistance show signs of mental health challenges. In some areas, almost half of the population is in need of mental healthcare services. The government recognizes its shortcomings and is taking steps to reduce such numbers and serve the needs of its citizens.
The stigmatization of mental health in Saudi Arabia is slowly decreasing. In past years, many Saudi Arabians have been ashamed to seek mental health treatment. Many frowned upon therapy as they considered mental illness a sign of weakness.
In a 2016 study to measure the rate of depression in the country, 14.3% of prospective participants declined for the reason that the survey was about mental health. When seeking therapy sessions, many patients were afraid to show their faces. These sentiments have left mental health conditions untreated, leading to economic challenges and causing individuals to fall into poverty.
In the past few years, the younger generation has stepped up and taken a stand in favor of mental healthcare. The attitude towards mental health is changing due to a variety of factors including upbringing and the awareness that is spreading throughout the nation. Both the Internet and contact with patients who suffer from mental conditions serve to increase awareness and confidence towards mental health. Now, when attending therapy sessions, many young Saudi Arabians are unafraid to show their identity.
Improving Mental Healthcare Services
The government began improving mental healthcare services in 1983. In an effort to address the country’s mental health crisis, the Saudi Arabian government created the General Department for Mental and Social Health (GDMSH) in 1983. The Department has the task of improving access to and the quality of mental healthcare throughout the nation.
Primary healthcare centers (PHCs) became available with the purpose of opening up these services to Saudi Arabian citizens. Additionally, GDMSH uses the First National Strategic Plan to modernize psychiatric facilities and provide well-trained staff for mental healthcare institutions. Maintaining the privacy of individuals who seek therapy became an issue left for the GDMSH to resolve. In response, the GDMSH has been working to protect the rights of each patient in the mental healthcare system.
Mental Health Law
In 2014, Saudi Arabia established a mental health law. The government sought out assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) to compile data on the state of mental health services in the country. Saudi Arabia converted its findings into legislation with the passing of the Mental Health Law.
The law incorporates many parts of WHO’s United Nations Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care. It provides a clear definition of mental health and emphasizes the need to seek voluntary mental healthcare rather than involuntary. It outlines special cases when involuntary healthcare may become used.
The law also adheres to the Saudi Arabian custom of involving family in all healthcare matters. Patients and their relatives receive information on how their rights will undergo maintenance throughout the treatment process. Should the treatment breach patients’ rights, they will have the entitlement to bring their case to court with a lawyer to represent them. The law remains dedicated to maintaining security throughout the treatment process.
Saudi Arabia has made great steps towards improving its mental healthcare. Today, the nation has a 55% ratio of psychiatric nurses to overall mental healthcare professionals, which is 37% higher than that of most developed countries.
Additionally, through the GDMSH’s efforts to improve the quality of mental healthcare, the country has a ratio of 18.4 beds to 100,000 citizens. The amount of beds is greater than the number of therapy appointments, which is a goal that many developed countries hope to achieve. The nation has more progress to make in its mental health journey, but Saudi Arabia is on the right track.
– Mariam Kazmi