Mental Health Services in the Arab World

By Okasha, A. | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Mental Health Services in the Arab World


Okasha, A., Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


INTRODUCTION

THE ARAB REGION HAS A POPULATION of 275 million with the highest population density being in Egypt. Despite several similarities that characterize our countries as a "homogenous" region with overlapping problems and challenges, yet mental health issues and services show several variations. Some Arab countries enjoy the highest income per capita, yet this is incompatible with the quality of mental health services available there. The per capita mental health services, the availability of a mental health act, the space allocated for mental health in medical curricula and the nature of the mental health challenges as identified by mental health professionals in the different Arab countries are but a few of the concerns that should be addressed in a review of the situation.

MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES

Large-scale community surveys are scarce in the Arab world. Despite the available resources that exist in the Arab countries collaborative multi-national cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have not been produced. However, there is lack of reliable epidemiological psychiatric base line data. This is partly related to the very concept of mental disorder itself, which may vary widely in divergent cultures (Ghubash and El-Rufaie, 1997), and to the methodological problems of assessment and evaluation. There is scarcity of valid, reliable and culture relevant Arabic psychiatric research instruments. There are doubts about the scales, which were originally designed for use in other cultures, due to problems relating to the linguistics and conceptual equivalence (El-Rufaie and Daradkeh, 1997).

In view of the above restrictions, Okasha & Karam 1998 conducted a mail survey to a number of colleagues in Arab countries investigating several aspects of mental health problems and resources. The outcome indicated that Arab countries seem to overlap in several of their concerns and expressions of mental health needs. Responses showed a consensus about the need for public mental health education, increasing the number of psychiatrists, upgrading the training and education of mental health professionals, the development of preventive and curative community mental health care services and the development of a mental health act.

As to mental health challenges, the development of rehabilitation services was a need expressed by the input from Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. Special education schooling children with learning disabilities and mental retardation was reported from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and UAE.

Children in the Arab World constitute around 45 percent of the total population. The awareness about psychosocial development of children and adolescent is lacking among the majority of parents and teachers. A study done by Seif El Din et al. (1998) in Egypt portrayed the number of pre-school children having behavioral problems was nearly one fourth of the total sample (23.35%) and fifty percent of them reported having temper tantrums, followed by sleep problems, mainly difficulty in sleeping on their own and over activity. A school based study carried out in Saudi Arabia, reported that 13.4 percent of school boys suffered from behavioral and or emotional disorders, (6.9% were behaviorally disturbed, 5.5% were emotionally disturbed and 0.7% were mixed disorders (Abol Fotouh, 1996). In Alexandria, Egypt the prevalence of behavioral and emotional problems among pre-school children attending nurseries was estimated to be 22.5% (Abdel Latif et al., 1989). Available services are limited in comparison to the adult psychiatric services

In Egypt, Lebanon, UAE and Morocco there was a need for the development of drug abuse programs considering the rising prevalence of drug abuse, especially among the young (Table 1). Compared to developed countries, the types of drugs widely used in our part of the world are mainly either central nervous system depressants or hallucinogens.

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