mental health the debilitating effects of depression a personal account
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Mental health The debilitating effects of depression A personal account

Arab Today, arab today

mental health the debilitating effects of depression a personal account

By Mona Al Ghussein

In a searingly honest interview Prince Harry in discussion with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge revealed that he suffered a period of depression soon after his mothers death, the late  Diana, Princess of Wales. By speaking about it he lifted the stigma that is generally associated with mental health.
At the same time Prime Minister Theresa May promised in her election manifesto that increased funds and training will be made available to the National Health service for Mental Health.
Yet in the Arab world Mental health is still viewed as ‘shameful’. The stigma still remains: part of it cultural part of it contextual in that Islamic communities believe that sickness is God’s will and mental illness is sometime perceived as the will of God to test or to punish.
But what is exactly is Mental Health? According the World Health Organization (WHO )"subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one's intellectual and emotional potential, among others.’
Or as Sigmund Freud put it the capacity ‘ to work and to love’.
In short it’s the ability to perceive and balance. To be able to cope with the stresses of life in a more or less even handed way.  It is an illness just like a physical sickness that the medical field now recognizes and treats effectively Bi polar and depression affects some of the most gifted and talented people in the world.  Its not an impediment to a full successful life.
The Oscar winning actress Catherine Zeta Jones . Gwyneth Patron, Mad Men Actor Jon Hamm are just a few who have publicly admitted to depression. Many famous names including, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Singers  Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Artists Francisco de Goya, and Henri Matisse, Physicist Isaac Newton, First President of Russia Boris Yeltsin Broadcaster Oprah Winfrey. The list of achievers suffering from depression is endless
However, depression is a hugely painful experience both for the individual and those around the individual such as family and friends. Its difficult to comprehend. As a child my sudden low moods were just dismissed as that ‘moodiness’. But I was lucky as I came from a background that was progressive and inclusive and it became clear that my sudden shift in moods were not just teenage angst.
These dark colds would descend unexpectedly for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  It hits you seemingly randomly and the sheer darkness appears endless. In the ensuing period of a few days no rational or sense would play any part. Everything was simply black and dark and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness would encompass me. These depressive episodes would never last more than a few days. They would lift just as suddenly as they had descended and the world was once again sunny. In hindsight I could always see the   lack of reason  and rational  and I would assure myself that  there would be no next time. And if next time came I would be able to cope better. But the reality is when in the grips of this depression nothing makes sense.
I am  not talking here  about stress or sad events  such as loss or tragedy that trigger depression but inexplicable reasons. The more challenges I had , the more stressful things became were never a trigger point to have these dark moments. On the contrary the more difficult a situation was the more driven and focused I was. 
In the last few years many high profile people have openly come out and discussed this once taboo subject and a better understanding is emerging in the public sphere in the Western world.  It’s a slow process as anything to do with mental issues is still perceived with a lack of understanding . It implies there is something not quite right with the individual. Whilst we can emphasize with a physical illness or disease, the workings of the mind is still something most of us fail  to comprehend. There are different classifications of depression , Clinical or deep seated  which could respond well to treatment that could be partly drugs partly therapy or reactive  depression due to circumstances in your life   in which a time is the best healer . It’s a complex field each type  is treated with different drugs and methods. The most commonly known is the deficiency of  Serotonin and the treatment of that is fairly straightforward.
However in the Middle East there is still reluctance to address this issue with the view that is something shameful. A study in Oman that included medical students as well as the general public revealed a mistaken assumption that mental health was caused by evil spirits and rejected genetics as a factor. Research in the USA of Muslim Americans demonstrated the unwillingness of the community to seek professional help due to the social and cultural stigma that would ensue. Again studies in Australia from the Arab community indicated  that stigma was the obstacle to seeking medical help. 
Mental health is statically prelevant in the Arab world just as much as in the Western World and keeping it buried and not bringing it out in the open only serves to perpetuate the myth that this is something shameful. Some studies have been taken  by the UAE University but they were either epidemiologic or psychometric and none to address mental health per se.  
Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait have the highest percentage of  psychiatrists and there has been a significant change is the Arab world in the field of mental health and  it is slowly being integrated into mainstream hospitals in the Emirates Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain. But there is still a long long way to go before there is an understanding  that that mental health is not something that can be exorcised by traditional ‘healers’ who claim to have special mystical powers.
It is in my view vital for the Arab world to highlight mental health and through public campaigns educate and explain  that mental health  is a treatable illness and to dispel the myths and taboos that surround it.
Is not a curse or  work of the evil eye and is something that can be addressed without shame or stigma .

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mental health the debilitating effects of depression a personal account mental health the debilitating effects of depression a personal account


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