Removing the Blindfold: Mental Health in the Arab World

It is difficult to overstate the benefits of mental health consciousness in a society, and, on the flip side, the potential burdens of mental illness. Today, the MENA region is plagued with risk factors for mental illness: a high population of refugees, survivors – both old and young – of wars and conflicts, socio-economic instability, an increasing wealth gap, social stigma, limited healthcare access, among many others. Today there are 11 mental care workers per 100,000 in the Arab World, compared to 125 per 100,000 in the US. Mental health is largely uncovered by insurance companies across the region, and of 22 Arab countries, only 8 have mental health laws. The function of mental health often ends up being marginalized by society and has been subsumed primarily by religious groups. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020, depression will be the second most frequent cause of disability worldwide, second only to ischemic heart disease. For people between the ages of 15 and 44, depression today is the number one cause of disability. How will we respond? This panel will explore the landscape of mental health in the region, from the point of view of the physician, the activist, the patient, and the entrepreneur.