Anxiety Disorders, Depression are the Most Common Mental Disorders in the Arab World
By: Nida Ramahi
It has been found that individuals from developing countries, particularly the Arab World, have a higher percentage of anxiety disorders and depression than in the West and Europe.
According to Arab Psychiatrists, who attended the Annual Royal College meeting of Psychiatrist Middle-East section held for the first time in Amman, Jordan last week, data has shown that the prevalence of mental disorders is the same all over the world; the difference comes in the type of mental disorders found in the Middle East versus the West. In the Arab world, these disorders include, social anxiety, phobia and depression.
According to Egyptian psychiatrist Dr. Ahmad Okashah, Director of WHO collaborating service, several factors are involved. Part of the problem is due to physiological and chemical reasons, the other part has to do with environmental and social factors, which in our society, added Dr. Okashah include a dictatorial and conservative paternal upbringing.
According to Syrian Psychiatrist Dr. Mohammad Abu Saleh, who heads the addiction services at St. Georges Medical Hospital, the cultural changes that Arab society has gone through, and its exposure to other cultures has caused Arabs to question their traditional norms. This gives rise to a conflict between the need for independence and society’s demand for conformity and uniformity.
The need to abide by social and traditional tribal values causes anxiety, tremendous stress and even depression and despair among individuals, added Abu-Saleh.
Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, panic disorder, obsession and all types of phobia, according to the experts. They said that social anxiety can cause one to have palpitations of the heart in a room full of people or feelings of shyness and sweaty hands when trying to speak in a public setting or, in certain cases, an inability to communicate even with relatives.
Depression is also quite prevalent in the Arab world, according to Jordanian Psychiatrist Dr. Walid Sarhan “along with anxiety disorders, it would form 50 percent of all psychiatric work in any clinic in the Middle East.”
The greatest sufferers of depression and social anxiety in the Arab world are women, according to the psychiatrists. They suffer from what is called pseumataform disorders, which consist mainly of depression and underlying anxiety. This has to do with the extreme external societal pressures that they face regarding their role within a patriarchal society and the way the society sees them, added the psychiatrists.
All the psychiatrists who spoke to Albawaba.com said that, on the whole, the percentage of those reported to suffer from psychiatric problems in the Arab world is still lower than in the West and Europe. The problem is that in the Arab world many of these disorders go untreated until they become chronic, and even then the percentage that seek help is very low. Many patients have had to live with their “black condition” for 15 to 20 years, Sarhan added.
Less than 15 percent of individuals who have these disorders in the Arab world get treatment, versus 90 to 95 percent who get treatment in the West and Europe, both Dr. Sarhan, and Dr.Okashah told Albawaba.com.
“And out of the 15 percent who get treatment,” added Dr. Sarhan, “only a third are women, quite often their problems are disregarded and put to the side.” Instead of the husband getting the wife treatment, in the case of a married woman, he will often remarry or divorce her, said the expert, adding “and if she’s single, she will just be sitting in her room year after year and may kill herself without anyone taking any notice.”
According to Abu Saleh, the problem is that Arab society has a stigma towards psychiatry, and those who seek psychiatric treatment. So when a member of the family has a mental disorder, instead of seeking help, the family tries to hide it from themselves and society.
“What is needed is to create awareness and develop the right funding for psychiatric services, which are currently very poor and rudimentary. Most psychiatric disorders are dealt with in private practice,” he said, and that, in his opinion is not sufficient, according to him.
It is estimated that one out of four people in any one community has a serious psychiatric condition, which is rarely detected by general practitioners. Since psychiatric problems are so complex, they need a comprehensive strategy, which includes social, medical and psychological services.
If this strategy is not adopted in the Middle East, Dr. Abu-Saleh said, then many people within Arab society will suffer needlessly, and their problems will become chronic, and have a highly detrimental effect on the healthy mental development of the Arab world – Albawaba.Com
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