Health authorities have been taking extra steps to increase awareness on the importance of mental health.
Qatar’s mental health line has received more than 37,000 calls since its launch in April 2020, Hamad Medical Corporation [HMC] told Doha News.
The helpline, launched in collaboration with Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health and the Primary Health Care Corporation, is run by a team of mental health professionals who provide assessment and support to between 200 to 300 callers a week.
The helpline boasts fully integrated interdisciplinary support, offering a timely and targeted intervention to those with mental health needs, with the aim of raising awareness on the importance of mental health and erasing any negative stigma attached to seeking assistance.
“Here in Qatar and around the world an enormous amount has been done to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and despite improvements in this area stigma remains one of the main barriers preventing people from accessing mental health support,” Chair of the Mental Health Service at HMC Majid Al Abdulla told Doha News.
The launch of the confidential helpline has allowed fast access to professional mental health support and has so far helped thousands of people seeking urgent support and advice from experts.
The service supports people of all ages primarily using the Arabic and English language, however it also can be accessed using a range of other common languages to reflect Qatar’s multicultural society.
“Our virtual mental health services have provided vital support for people throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and will continue to provide easy access to these services in the months and years ahead,” Al Abdulla said.
Among the most common complaints are those related to anxiety and depression and 60-70% of callers are new to the mental health service, HMC added.
However, some people with an existing mental health diagnosis also use the helpline for a review or early intervention to prevent deterioration in mental health.
Senior Consultant of Family Medicine & Executive Director of Operations at PHCC Dr. Samya Al Abdulla said it is important for the community to not underestimate the potential severity of mental illness just because they can go unseen.
“Stress, anxiety, and sadness are feelings that we all experience from time to time in our lives,” the doctor said.
“Fortunately, these feelings usually pass quickly, but for some people these feelings remain and negatively impact their quality of life. The symptoms of mental illness are often less obvious than those of physical illness, yet their impact on the individual can be equally debilitating.”
When someone uses the hotline, the call is first screened by triage staff for urgency. A care plan is then agreed upon with the caller and an intervention team is assigned as appropriate. A follow-up is also arranged if needed.
Since its launch, the service has made over 3,000 calls to ensure all caller’s needs are met and the staff is providing the necessary care as efficiently as possible. The treatment plan then generally focuses on three main points of concern for the patient.
This process has been proven to be successful, according to HMC.
According to the World Federation for Mental Health, between 75% and 95% of people with mental health disorders that are living in low- and middle-income countries, have no access to mental health services. However, issues of access also occur in wealthier countries albeit at a lower rate.
Stigma remains to be a big concern and, often, people with mental illness do not receive the treatment they are entitled to due to the stigma and discrimination they experience together with their families or caregivers.
Qatar has recently been working on tackling the stigma and raising awareness regarding the importance of mental health in the country.
“In recent years the expansion of Qatar’s mental health services has been significant and has enabled increasing numbers of people to access professional support for their conditions,” said Al Abdulla.
“A major focus of the recent expansion of mental health services has been to deliver more services in the primary care setting and we have worked hard to expand the range of mental health services delivered at our primary care health centres, including the introduction of virtual services.”
Such efforts have allowed the community to gain easier access to services and reduce the stigma often associated with visiting specialist mental health facilities.