As someone who is familiar with the cultural phobia elicited from the general discussion and practice of psychiatric health and care, I wrote the piece below in 2010 for Qatar's leading business publication, 'TheEDGE', looking at said taboos and tribulations. The first half of the article looks at the Qatar Health initiative and the state's ranking as compared against global health systems. The latter half includes excerpts from an interview I conducted with Dr Suhaila Ghuloum of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, plus a look into a survey re mental health conducted in that year. Have YOU had a positive or negative personal experience with psychiatric aid locally, or internationally?
INSIDE QATAR'S PSYCHE
Healthcare continues to be one of the highest priorities for Qatar, emphasised by its position as an industry leader within the region. Through its strategic developments in recent years and most notably since the inception of the primary health body, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), Qatar has gained the reputation as a regional health leader. However, certain medical practices are viewed as contradictory to cultural and traditional norms. Reem Shaddad discovers the qualms behind trusting in psychiatric care, both on a local and international scale.
Established in 1979, HMC is responsible for the management of four specialised hospitals and their clinical counterparts. These include Hamad General Hospital, Rumailah Hospital, the Women’s and the Psychiatric hospitals, respectively.
Opening its doors in 1982 after changing locations from Rumailah to its current address at Grand Hamad Street, Hamad General Hospital (HGH) has experienced both an increase in patient numbers as well as its facilities. Among the services offered at HGH, the facility has a high capacity for inpatient care, a sizable outpatient department with the provision of specialty clinics and a wide array of departments including accident and emergency, pathology and radiology. Its span of offerings proves the availability of necessary therapeutic services, ensuring that HMC as a whole remains abreast of international medical standards and further local schemes.
Day one of the psychiatric presentations, included elements of the aforementioned issues particularly during Doctor Suhaila Ghuloum’s talk surrounding a cross sectional survey conducted to reveal the knowledge of mental illness and mental health practices in Qatar. Not only is Ghuloum a practicing consultant psychiatrist, but she is also the chair of the psychiatry department at Qatar’s Psychiatric Hospital. In addition, Ghuloum is an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar and is the focal point of negotiation and cooperation between Qatar and the WHO’s EMRO and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Mental Health Council. In a private interview with Ghuloum, sentiments surrounding the lack of formal health strategies were echoed concerning the absence of a Mental Health Act.
Annual GCC Mental Health Council meetings held in different locations around the region have voiced these concerns and are currently in the process of formulating a Mental Health Act that is flexible enough for moulding into the ethnic variations comprised in the GCC countries. The council meetings provide grounds for the exchange of experiences, clinical, practical and research support, and the study of mental health legislature in different countries to aide their own goal. This goal also includes the principal issues of securing the rights of individuals with mental health issues, particularly where modern psychiatric techniques are not trusted.
Ghuloum does not condemn the exposure that mental health has received, but rather she believes this exposure has helped spread awareness through the Qatari community and within the HMC itself: “This has brought awareness to the fact that we cannot continue things the way they were 10 years ago. We need to improve and certainly HMC has taken many steps in the right direction, improving on its psychiatric services.”
These are the key issues that Ghuloum is calling to be publicly addressed in a bid to foster a better understanding of mental health throughout the state, and hence, to encourage empathy and awareness towards those suffering from such illnesses. Ghuloum was also quick to note the role that the media plays in this misinterpretation of mental health disorders. Ghuloum’s theory is supported by countless examples across all media platforms, where individuals diagnosed with mental disorders are often presented in a negative light. Inevitably, misleading portrayals can have significant repercussions on both society as a whole and sufferers of mental illness – particularly in the instance of people, who have had no prior exposure to, or knowledge of, mental health issues.
Irrespectively, Ghuloum remains largely optimistic about the future of psychiatry in the region, particularly in light of what some regional events and professionals are doing in regard to highlighting critical issues. According to Ghuloum, numerous independent schools have approached the Psychiatry Hospital in Doha to attend open speaking days as to better educate young minds on the services available to them. Community care, day care centres, crisis intervention and a bio-psycho-social approach to medication rounds up these services, with emphasis on the need for a better understanding on the benefits of psychotherapy.
As acting chairperson for the department of psychiatry in Qatar, Ghuloum’s ultimate vision remains central to the integration of mental health care with general medical services to help reduce the stigma of mental illness. On the whole, Ghuloum says Qatar appears to be living up to its name as a regional leader in healthcare advancement: “Things are improving. We are still not where we would ideally like to be, but then again, this stigma related to mental illness is not an exclusively local problem, rather a global one."
Note: This particular article doesn't live anywhere on the internets, but THIS is its home.