Mental Health in Kuwait

By Caleb Sanders

We are all people, and we all have had at least one experience where it felt like our mind was working against us, and it felt like it would never end. Luckily some of us have family, friends, support groups, counsellors, etc. That we can talk to and regain the hope and strength we need to get out of the fixed mindset. However, whether it be for stigma to do with culture, family, gender, ethnicity, etc. or financial or legal status, most people do not have access to mental health support, and many are unable to talk freely with their families or friends about their situation. 

Kuwait is one example of a society that needs help learning and building the capacity to treat mental health. More change needs to happen, especially in times like now after the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health illnesses were always there, but the pandemic was a huge trigger for many people, especially those with a history or predisposition to mental health illness. This is not a problem that will just go away if we keep pretending it doesn’t exist, and if we keep on doing that, it will do more harm than it already has. Think of mental illness as you would physical illness like cancer. Cancer may ruin every second of your life by causing pain and discomfort constantly, especially if the root of the problem is never even acknowledged. In that circumstance, a hospital in Kuwait would investigate what was happening so that the root of the problem could be resolved. Mental health works similarly; there are symptoms that are always there at least in the background, maybe it’s hallucinations or maybe it’s anger, a feeling like life is not worth living, and as people, we need to learn to address the root of these problems and resolve them.

In the past few years, residents of Kuwait have been very isolated with strict COVID-19 regulations and economic struggles. Also, the fear of losing their own life or loved ones is a difficult thought not to get set on when you’re stuck inside. Everyone has struggled with mental health at this time, and many find it difficult to cope, especially with a lack of knowledge on how to, and the stigma that prevents people from learning. Kuwait has tight regulations and safety precautions to prevent the contraction of the virus, but that’s not the only problem at hand. Here is what was revealed by a survey, United Nations Development Programme did, where 679, 21+ year olds, (57.9% of females and 42.1% of males; 67.7% of Kuwaiti nationals and 32.3% of non-Kuwaiti nationals) were analysed. It was concluded that 59.8% of females and 51.0% of males are under depression, 20.4% of females and 13.6% of males are experiencing extremely severe depression, 42.0% of females and 37.8% of males are under psychological distress, and 15.1% of females and 9.1% of males are experiencing severe or extremely severe psychological distress. This amount of people experiencing mental illness also reflects people in Kuwait’s quality of life. This is not a sustainable or desirable way to live and left untreated this will become a much worse problem in the future.

The hardest hit people in Kuwait from COVID are migrant workers and stateless people who often live together in large groups. Healthcare in Kuwait is of very high quality with brand-new facilities and lots of high-quality staff. For Kuwaiti nationals, there was fear throughout the pandemic regarding the large strain put on their healthcare system. Migrant workers and stateless people in Kuwait were at an even bigger disadvantage as secondary healthcare is not free for them. As Well they are not prioritised and are often subjected to long waits before they receive treatment for their illnesses. Migrant workers and stateless people are also much less likely to access mental health services in Kuwait which is also detrimental in this time of need. Mental health supports like mental illness diagnosis assessments, psychiatrists, and therapists are very expensive in Kuwait and even more so for migrant workers and stateless people who make fractions of the money that nationals do. The migrant workers and stateless people in Kuwait also have a heavy stigma in most of their cultures towards mental health treatment, and they have much less support there to talk about it even if an individual is open to the concept, so it doesn’t end up getting talked about very much.

Another difficult barrier to the stigma around mental health in Kuwait is that not only is the person seeking help jeopardising their reputation but also their families because it is seen that the parents cause the mental illness. This causes families to neglect their children with mental illness in many instances. Mental health illness is also often viewed as a religious issue with the treatment being repairing the individual’s relationship with god. Although spirituality can help people feel like they have a purpose, It can also have negative outcomes if not utilized safely. For instance, when an individual with mental illness is told that asking for help is not as effective as prayers and religious ceremonies that focus less on the actual behaviours and more on ignoring the symptoms and manifesting them away. Behaviours that cause distress are most likely there for a reason, and often addressing the reason is the first step in leaving behind the behaviour. That is where mental health treatment is most beneficial.

To break the cycle of mental illness in Kuwait, there must be a wide spectrum of interventions and initiatives. Some focused on systematic changes driving more funding for mental health support in more communities, with more advertising about who should seek treatment and how to go about it. Other changes being more directed at culture, which would entail more public mental health events and seminars. When there is a visible community that is vouching for people with mental illness instead of silencing them and forcing their values on them, the fixed mindsets about acknowledgment and treatment will slowly fade. None of these changes will be easy or fast, but we cannot let that be a barrier to at least trying, otherwise the problem will only grow.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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