While many countries around the world do not have a mental health policy, Qatar has had a decade-long commitment to developing mental health services. The recent launch of a campaign to raise public awareness about mental health and well-being is key to this the next stage of development for the country.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and public sector healthcare providers are working together to tackle the stigma often associated with mental health. This stigma can act as a barrier to people seeking help. Tackling stigma, improving access and integrating physical and mental health
are key in delivering the priorities of the National Health Strategy 2018-2022 in Qatar.
Mahmoud al-Raisi, chief of Continuing Care at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), highlighted the importance of Qatar’s long-term commitment to improving mental health awareness and care provided to its population: “The early work done following the publication of the first National Mental Health Strategy in 2013 has laid a solid foundation on which to build,” he said. “A recent study commissioned by the MoPH on attitudes about mental health in Qatar shows that people are increasingly prepared to talk about mental health and looking for ways to access help. We are firmly focused on building on this to improve access, reduce stigma and to integrate physical and mental health in settings that people are happy to use.
“We will continue to pursue international best practice and move away from providing predominantly institutional-based care to integrated community facilities, close to where people live. We are working closely with the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) to increase the range of access opportunities within primary health centres and there are new clinics operating across our hospitals in HMC, enabling the public to receive services in settings that are not associated with some of the more traditional psychiatric services.
“We will open a community service hub in the north of Qatar building on the comprehensive community services, which are already in place in south and west Doha.”
Dr Samya al-Abdulla, executive director of Operations at PHCC, noted the outstanding success of all mental health services provided by the corporation.
“Our corporation has launched the Support Clinic (Psychology Clinic) in a total of five health centres – Rawdat Al Khail, Leabaib, Al Thumama, Al Wajbah and Qatar University. In addition to introducing the Integrated Psychiatry Clinic in three health centres at Al Thumama, Al Wajbah and Qatar University, plans are in place to gradually launch it in the rest of our specialised centres in the future,” Dr Samya al-Abdulla said. “All these activities are under the framework of implementing the goals of the National Health Strategy 2018-2022 that state 20% of mental health services in the country should be provided through primary care by 2020.
“We have witnessed high demand on mental services provided by PHCC, and this demand is a result of the increased awareness of the community and patients’ belief that we are the first point of contact for them and their family. The easy access to our services through PHCC health centres and their strong and effective relationship with our family physicians are also very positive. Providing easy access for patients and their families in the community is very important to reduce the stigma that prevent patients from seeking assistance, and will encourage a healthy dialogue between community members regarding their mental health and well-being.”
“The World Health Organisation states that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Our family doctors and nursing staff see a large cross section of the population and are generally the first contact for people seeking help with issues that may have a mental health component,” added Dr Samya al-Abdullah added. “Stress, anxiety and depression are often first noticed by the family doctor and we have made a concerted effort to provide targeted mental health professional development for our teams to ensure that they are more equipped to provide diagnosis and treatment options.”
Dr Majid al-Abdullah, senior consultant psychiatrist and acting chair of psychiatry at HMC, explained: “Mental health issues can affect many of us and this can have a significant impact on family, work and physical health. A key priority of the National Health Strategy 2018-2022 is healthy and safe employees, and have been working closely with this programme to promote mental health in the workplace. Within HMC, we have established two psychological support clinics in our Staff Clinic, to support our staff with any mental health concerns. We also offer this service to strategic partners, and have recently launched an integrated mental health service for Qatar Airways staff.
“We have established a series of integrated mental health clinics during this year. The purpose of these clinics is to improve access and to provide care in settings that are free from the stigma often associated with mental health. We also launched a clinic in the Hazm Mebaireek General Hospital earlier this year to support craft and manual workers. Physical and mental health are intertwined, and we have established a clinic in the Heart Hospital to support cardiac patients with mental health problems.
“Similarly, in August 2019, an Eating Disorder clinic was opened in Hamad General Hospital, and an Obesity Clinic, running in Hamad Bin Khalifa Medical City, was expanded to a full-day clinic to cater to the growing demand for both services.”
Iain Tulley, CEO of HMC’s Mental Health Service and the National Health Strategy lead for the Mental Health and Well-being workstream, explained that while investment in new hospital facilities is part of the long-term expansion plan, greater focus will be placed on the development of community-based care and home treatment.
“We have come a long way in the last few years, which has resulted in the accreditation of our Mental Health Service by the Joint Commission International accreditation body – we are the first mental health service in this region to achieve this. But we are also conscious that there is a lot more to be done in Qatar, both at a policy and a service provision level.
“The public awareness campaign we have launched is geared towards encouraging members of the public to engage in a dialogue with us to help develop the type of mental health services they wish to see for their community in the future.”
For more information about mental health and related services in Qatar, one can visit https://sehanafsia.moph.gov.qa
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