Tunisia, a center of Arab culture and home to 11.7 million Tunisians, has been making significant strides in improving its care for mental health across all stages of life. Battling the overwhelming stigma and discrimination against individuals facing mental health issues, Tunisian citizens have been working diligently to change attitudes toward mental health in their country. Mental health in Tunisia ranges from disorders to everyday anxiety struggles; however, most cases go undiagnosed as many are afraid to bring upon themselves the stigma associated with being publicly labeled as a person with a mental health disorder. Nonetheless, consistent effort to reduce mental health stigma has improved Tunisia’s overall public health.
The Conception of Mental Health Among the Youth
Since 2012, International Alert, a peacebuilding organization, has been working with Tunisia to support a peaceful democratic transition, guaranteeing the inclusion of excluded and marginalized groups. In 2022, they conducted a survey-based study to analyze the impression of mental health among Tunisian youth and their personal experiences with mental health struggles. The study concluded that Tunisia’s youth lacked knowledge about mental health. However, when questioned about mental health in Tunisia, there were both positive and negative responses. A significant number of participants rated their mental health negatively and were reluctant to admit their struggles with mental health issues. They were also hesitant to seek assistance from mental health facilities or psychologists, despite being aware of the need for professional help.
Obstacles: Institutional and Social
There are two types of obstacles evident in the study: institutional and social obstacles. These two categories can be intertwined and mutually reinforcing. For instance, the lack of accessible services has resulted in an absence of a mental health culture in Tunisia. Additionally, the cost of treatment further exacerbates the issue of inaccessibility for marginalized and discriminated groups in Tunisia. The stereotypes that arise from the absence of a mental health culture have led to prejudice, stigma and bullying against individuals who struggle with mental health issues daily.
Based on the background information regarding mental health in Tunisia, it is evident that both social and institutional changes are necessary. In 2017, a team of psychiatrists from Razi Hospital initiated the Responding to Experienced and Anticipated Discrimination (READ) program. This program aims to provide anti-stigma training to medical students at Tunis Medical School. The effectiveness of this training has been demonstrated in high-income countries, raising hopes among professionals for similar outcomes in Tunisia.
The main goal of the Tunisia READ training is to build people’s knowledge of stigma and combat its daily effects on individuals. Awareness of attitudes towards mental illness and psychiatry is the first step towards improvement because recognizing a problem is essential to fixing it. Following this goal is the aim to reduce discriminatory behavior towards individuals with mental health disorders and their caregivers.
Despite the initial challenges posed by the pre-existing attitudes of medical students and citizens, the trainers of this program persevered and remained consistent in their goals. They actively engaged with people to implement an improved attitude towards mental health in Tunisia.
In conclusion, Tunisia has been actively addressing the stigma surrounding mental health and making efforts to improve the overall care for individuals facing mental health issues. The study conducted among Tunisian youth highlighted the lack of knowledge and reluctance to seek professional help, indicating the need for institutional and social changes. Initiatives like the READ training program have shown promise in raising awareness and combating stigma, with dedicated trainers working persistently to foster a positive attitude towards mental health in Tunisia. Continued efforts and consistent engagement are crucial for achieving lasting improvements in mental health care and reducing discrimination in the country.
– Sandy Kang