National mental health strategy for Qatar

Published online 13 December 2013

Ola Al-Ghazawy

© Qatar Foundation

Qatar's new national mental health strategy, the first of its kind in the Arab world, has been released at the World Innovation Summit for Health in Doha.

Based on recommendations from the World Health Organization, researchers and policymakers were responding to as-yet unpublished studies that show one in every five Qataris suffers from mental health problem.

The researchers suggested the number may be even higher due to under-reporting because of social stigma attached to the issue. It is estimated that three of the top five causes of disability in Qatar are mental health issues, costing the country QR1.7 billion (US$470 million) annually.

Abdulla Al Kaabi, the executive vice chief medical officer at Sidra Medical and Research Center in Doha, spoke of the importance of a national strategy. "Putting together a strategy was a huge step, but implementing it will be the true challenge, and we need all stakeholders to be involved."

Al Kaabi said that stigma would be the main obstacle to the success of the strategy, at the heart of which is an aim to nullify the shame that people with mental health disorders can face. The strategy aims to facilitate access to help and make sure resources and information are readily available. It also aims to widen the net for people seeking professional help and increase the number of health workers able to deal with these issues.

While the strategy is focused on the needs of Qataris, Al Kaabi says that Sidra is also considering the mental health disorders among the region's refugees, especially women and children.

The Jordanian minister of health, Ali Hiasat, said his country was also stretched when it came to mental healthcare. Many of the 1.5m Syrian refugees escaping to Jordan are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This has stretched the country's healthcare system, which normally caters to 6.3 million Jordanians.