The stigma surrounding mental health often prevents people from seeking the help they so desperately need. The state of mental health impacts everyday life, for most people this can be good or bad. In Bahrain, over the years, there has been an improvement in the available mental health services. Greater efforts are being made to improve education and reduce the mental health stigma.
Mental Health in Numbers
Looking at the statistics for mental health in Bahrain, 4.9% of people have anxiety disorders and 4.5% have depression. A study conducted in 2010 found that 19.3% of patients in primary care centers had lifetime depression and 5.6% had current depression. Of those who suffered from a mental illness in the past, only 41% had received treatment. Here lies the primary issue—seeking help.
Bahrain is one of three countries in the Gulf that had more than 30 psychiatric beds (33.8) per 100,000 individuals in 2007. In the 2011 WHO-AIMS report, Bahrain reported having only one mental health hospital, at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in the country’s capital, Manama. One of the key values of the psychiatric hospital is ‘personal responsibility’—encouraging a sense of responsibility through increasing awareness and education regarding mental health. Reducing poor mental health in Bahrain through improving education and awareness is a primary way more people can not only take care of their mental health but also reduce stigma around mental health and its treatment.
In 2015, psychiatrists conducted a study evaluating the pattern of mental health disorders in Bahrain. The results revealed that people with poor education and low income had the highest risk of developing mental illness. The results further showed that over 30% of the participants were from social class 5 (with primary school level education or less, unskilled workers or unemployed). In addition, over 42% were from social class 4 (with education less than high school but more than primary school level, working class, semi-skilled and skilled). While the reasons behind these statistics were not investigated, the World Health Organization has labeled poverty as the primary cause of global suffering, including poor mental health.
The Prevailing Stigma
Some can view struggling with mental health as a test from God or a sign of a weak connection with God. This sometimes prevents people from seeking help from medical and psychological professionals, believing the answer to their mental health struggles is to pray. While prayer can definitely offer comfort, seeking help is also very important.
In an interview with the Daily Tribune, News of Bahrain in December 2022, licensed psychologist Dr. Mariam Alammadi explains that she has witnessed an increase in the number of people seeking help. She believes there has been a shift in the general attitude toward mental health in Bahrain, with the stigma surrounding it slowly diminishing.
Help for People in Bahrain
The past few years have seen an improvement in the resources available and organizations dedicated to educating the public on mental health in Bahrain. One such organization is the Bahrain Red Crescent Society (BRCS), a charity founded in 1971. Alongside its other admirable work, BRCS strives to provide psychological support to citizens. The organization provides a training program in psychological first aid, holds workshops on mental health in Bahrain as well as elsewhere in the Gulf and continues its “Your Mental Health Matters” initiative. The latest training program was attended by 67 participants and aimed to enhance the capability of volunteers and staff in providing psychological care to those in need before, during and after disasters and crises. The participants’ test score rate improved from 60% before the training to 90% after the training, demonstrating the benefit of the program.
The Instagram account @unknotted.bh is another nonprofit community organization that provides free support group sessions for mental health, making help more accessible for those suffering but who cannot afford to seek treatment elsewhere. It also uploads informative, educational posts that aim to educate people on mental health and shares advice on how to deal with others’ mental health as well as one’s own. The posts are in both Arabic and English, thus making the resources accessible to a wider audience.
Fighting for a Promising Future
BRCS and @unknotted.bh are just two nonprofit organizations working tirelessly to improve mental health in Bahrain through better education. These organizations are fighting to end the stigma surrounding mental health treatment in Bahrain. Hopefully, by progressively reaching a wider audience, these organizations and others can make people more comfortable asking for help, thereby reducing the number of people that suffer as a result of not seeking treatment.
– Sheherazade Al Shahry