On the heels of an editorial cautioning Gulf governments about “cities of men,” an associate professor of psychology at Zayed University in the UAE highlights some of the unique mental health risks facing Qatar’s large blue-collar workforce. In this editorial, Dr. Justin Thomas also offers some ideas on how they can be addressed.
When it comes to mental health, Qatar is a step ahead of its Gulf peers in that it has developed a specific strategy to tackle the issue in the coming years.
But will this ambitious plan, now halfway into its implementation, be applied to the country’s hundreds of thousands of blue-collar expats, especially those industrious individuals living in labor camps who toil away for long hours at construction sites?
Previous research suggests that mental health problems are relatively common among the residents of such labor camps.
One study, published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health in 2011, reported that a quarter of participants – labor camp residents – had clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms.
More worrying still, 2.5 percent them reported having actually attempted suicide.
Indeed, Qatar’s own strategy identified several risk factors for poor mental health that human rights advocates have identified within Qatar’s laborer workforce, including poverty, discrimination, low social status, dangerous work, low perceived power, isolation and outright abuse.
And researchers at Amnesty International have noted that migrant workers often face unique stresses, such as knowing family members back home are depending on them for financial support.
The organization’s staff has documented numerous cases of migrants in despair over labor-related issues, such as unpaid wages and an inability to leave Qatar and return home.
While there have been many calls to improve the living and working conditions of the country’s blue-collar expatriates through reforms of labor and sponsorship laws, it’s equally important to consider the psychological environments of their homes and workplaces.
Hard hats and boots protect heads and feet, but what protection do we offer hearts and minds? One could take a sprained wrist to the camp physician, but where is the professional with whom to discuss persistent sadness and irritability?
Providing culturally appropriate counseling and free access to mental health services for blue-collar expatriates would be humanitarian and progressive.
However, the provision of such services also needs to be accompanied by an ongoing commitment to de-stigmatize mental health issues, and protect people from discrimination related to their experiencing such problems.
One way to circumvent stigma and discrimination is to take a blanket approach to promoting mental health.
For example, it’s fairly common in the white-collar world to see corporate wellness programs. Such programs tend to speak of “emotional excellence” and “stress management,” rather than using stigmatized terms such as “mental illness.”
How about emotional wellness and stress-management programs being routinely extended to “workers?” After all, it’s not only executives who experience stress. Such programs would be in addition to providing confidential and culturally appropriate counseling services.
Another consideration would be the provision of leisure time. It’s all very well providing some time off, but with a lack of meaningful leisure activities for those on low-incomes and without access to cars or reliable public transport, time off can become torture.
Leisure facilities and activities scheduled around the needs of the blue-collar expats would also help prevent the blue-collar blues.
Mental health officials in Qatar have said that they are committed to better understanding the unique stresses affecting different population groups, including migrant workers.
They’ve also said that services need to not only be provided in an institutional setting, but also delivered in the community.
Both are positive messages, and as Qatar works to hire more psychiatrists and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issue, we can only hope that its most vulnerable population is not left behind.
The rich are the only ones who are truly afflicted by mental illnesses. The true concerns of blue collar workers are only on how they’re going to eat and how much they can send to their family to raise them from poverty.
Seriously…I can’t really believe that someone who knows how to use the internet could arrive at such a conclusion.
Sure you can. Only people, who are ignorant of what low income workers really think about, can say that. If you always sit in your office and don’t go to camps and see what the “blue collars” are concerned about, you wouldn’t believe it either.
Perhaps you should do more reading about mental illness.
Really? Perhaps you should really “READ” my comments, instead of jumping to conclusions. Why should workers “think” about mental illnesses? Will it help them feed themselves and their family? Will it help them to alleviate their families from poverty?
Mental Illness are in fact, a rich man’s disease, because the poor CANNOT AFFORD to think about it. Have you talked to workers and laborers? Do you think that they complain that they have a psychosomatic disorder? Will you hear from them that they have Hypochondriasis? Or that they are becoming Paranoid of others?
The only thing that you can hear from them is depression. And they are depressed because they are not able to send enough money to their families. That they have to sometimes go hungry, so they can buy hala / mobily load to talk to their family. They are depressed because they can’t be together with their families and see how their children grow up. And so many more…
Now, instead of personally ATTACKING a commenter for his opinions, regardless of the relevance or importance of their comments, go to the industrial and talk to those them and really see what they are “thinking about”.
Fully agree with you, Pete. Elkhorn’s having a deluded moment.
Qatar and her selfish laws is the grand cause of the mental issues with the immigrants.. What are you talking about ? Many people came here to work leaving their beloved ones back home and traveled all the way to Qatar to make a living.. The only payback they get is a salary of 500 riyal or 1200 riyal, only the few lucky ones get 1500 riyals.. Laborers are being treated like common criminals, dirty accommodations and working over time without pay.. The government don’t give a damn, everything they do is the opposite sometimes i wonder if the Qatari government officials are humans, not so sure they are not humans..
I heard that “indiscriminate criminal profiling of migrant workers 101” is a mandatory class in Qatari police academies.
This is astounding news. Nobody could ever have imagined this. In the light of these revelations I am confident that measures will be put in place tomorrow to address all the issues that contribute to the unacceptable mental state of the blue collar workers. After that can I have some help as well please?
You are at the end of the queue, we all are waiting…
this is an excellent article, with a good purpose behind it .. other news outlets in the country shy away from such topics. Regardless to say, it is absolutely crucial to speak about them in public. It’s about time!
Maybe if someone were to explain Qataris that depressed workers with suicidal thoughts are less productive, they would care more. Great article!
I think that’s been done. They just don’t care.
Many low income workers in the gulf find themselves in a difficult situation, either no work at home or working for free. (India has one of the largest slave populations in the world, and you thought slavery had ended….). So taking a job that pays something in the gulf so they can support their families back home is at first a bonus, but years living with just men in camps and all work and no play can lead to depression. (Probably one of the reasons they make their own booze which is not particularly pure and drink themselves to oblivion to forget for a while).
This article is also positive for Qatar. If they take care of the mental well being of the workers, then that will help productivity. Happy workers, equals more work and therefore with projects getting completed on schedule a reduction in cost.
The workers are too expendable. Unfortunately there are a lot of ignorant people who are poor. Only seeing the promised wealth awaiting them here while ignorant, knowing and ignoring or oblivious, to the reality of life for laborers here. Cheated on pay, filthy living conditions, bad food, etc etc. The powers that be here know they will always have cheap labor as no one seems to be educating them on the perils of life here for them and they keep lining up to come.
I guess their options are poor, getting cheated in their own country or treated badly here.
I don’t think it’s so much as getting cheated in their own country. The countries they come from are poor and can’t afford the “promised” salaries here. Even in Egypt, which I would rate above Pakistan, Bangladesh, even India, State employees (teachers, professors, lawyers, etc etc) make $75 /mo. While apparently there are unscrupulous labor dealers it does not forgive what happens to them here. I have personally seen the living conditions of even non “hard” labor guys and they lived 20 in a room about the size of my office and 4 of those rooms shared a bath and kitchen that was horrid. These are QF contracted employees. Sheikha Mousa herself. Salaries promised cut in half, passports confiscated, movements monitored and denied throughout the country to “protect” the virtues of the Qatari citizens, etc etc. All the while being illegal and happening right under the authorities noses if not directly in their power. The cheating there is a private company trying to make money, here it’s state sponsored abuse.
Are you seriously comparing Egypt and India? India is a country with a population of above 1.25 billion. There is a huge contrast between the rich and the poor and it’s purely survival of the fittest. Just check the below link to see where Egypt and India stands
I should’ve said getting cheated BY their own country.
I think a lot of people, blue collar or otherwise, are depressed in Doha. For a country as rich as it is, you would think there would be more to do and it wouldn’t be so damn boring… guess the best way to manage is to make sure that you are leaving/holidaying outside the country as often as possible. Doesn’t say much about the country though…. “How do you stay happy in Qatar?” “Leave the country as much as you can!”
That’s always been the way here. Great place to live if you can travel outside it at least 4 times a yr and have extended summer vacas to boot.
Doesn’t this contradict the previous Doha News article declaring Qatar as one of the happiest places in the Universe? You should also include an article about the mental health of people who work for Companies that have a 10hr work day (not including the morning and evening travelling times) or 6 day weeks.
Whilst sitting at my desk 10hrs a day, with my bottom getting bigger and flatter as the minutes tick slowly by, and my ears fill with the sounds of overly cheerful Filipino & Indian quacking, I often find myself staring into space and wondering if this is life. I know my sanity switch is twitching towards the off sign.
It isn’t life Gracie. It’s a means of earning money short term and if you stay there too long you’ll forget what life is really like. If you’re staring out of the window then you really ought to be thinking about an exit strategy.
A great article? IMHO This is yet another article in Qatar’s propaganda offensive to the world to give the false impression that it cares about it’s blue-collar workers. Reform the Kafala and the labour laws to have a free competitive labour market and whilst it wouldn’t solve all the problems it would undoubtedly raise the working and living conditions of migrant workers and make them feels less like slaves – but that’s a step Qatar won’t take because that would cost money. Articles like this just make me angry.