The demographic profile of those who called during the last three years includes a majority of individuals between the ages of 24 and 35.
Qatar’s National Mental Health Helpline has fundamentally altered access for anyone in need of professional mental health support, reaching over 43,000 calls since its founding in April 2020.
Marking its three-year anniversary this April, the free and confidential helpline is Qatar’s main access point to mental healthcare and treatment. Supported by the Ministry of Public Health and operated by Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), the hotline was launched at the height of the pandemic but was soon regarded as much more than a helpline for Covid-related issues.
“We set up the helpline in Qatar at a time when a greater number of people were experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety relating to COVID-19. We soon discovered, however, that many people were seeking, confidential and professional help for other forms of psychological distress,” Dr. Majid Al Abdulla, Chairman of Psychiatry at HMC and Medical Director of HMC’s Mental Health Service said.
Al Abdulla emphasised that seeking help early and facilitating simple access to psychological assistance can stop problems from worsening and leading to mental illness.
“Through this service, we can provide fast and personal access to support without the stigma and fear often associated with our traditional services. We have helped many individuals to manage their challenges or, where needed, provide access to more extensive professional support.”
“For many people this has avoided the need for more acute treatment and longer-term care, which is an amazing achievement.”
The helpline provides access to multilingual and interprofessional employees on the to cater to Qatar’s diverse community.
“Our mental health experts include nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists who are able to speak in several languages, including Arabic, English, Tagalog, Hindi, Urdu and Malayalam. This is so important as callers find it easier to engage and express themselves in their native language,” said Katja Warwick-Smith, Assistant Executive Director of Clinical Service Development and Operational Lead for the Helpline.
Official say a wide variety of nationalities and an equal number of men and women have made use of the hotline, with the majority of individuals between the ages of 24 and 35.
Iain Tulley, CEO of HMC’s Mental Health Service, said while Covid-19 served as the impetus for the establishment of the helpline in 2020, the importance of mental health and improved access to care were previously reflected in the National Health Strategy 2018–2022.
“The greatest impediment to people seeking support with their mental health is the stigma that surrounds services and the fear that asking for help may adversely affect them is a key driver for this service. Raising awareness about symptoms of illness; providing easy and confidential access to help and integrating physical and mental healthcare has been instrumental in the progress that has been made and in the level of public confidence in this service, surpassing all expectations,” said Tulley.
Qatari authorities have taken strides to tackle mental health across the country, joining in on a global wave that has shed light on such issues.
Next month, Qatar will host the Qatar International Mental Health Conference which will feature presentations on some of the major accomplishments and lessons learned from creating and running the helpline.
Scheduled to take place in Doha from 25-27 May will serve as a platform for the exchange of experiences, knowledge, and research in the field of mental health.
The conference aims to bring together renowned clinicians, scientists, and researchers in the mental health domain, to offer a unique educational forum for healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals working in and with mental health.