The MENA mental illness stigma: what to do?

The MENA mental illness stigma: what to do?

By Cesilia Faustina

Photography by Cesilia Faustina

 

Samer Khader has a vast knowledge of mental illnesses and mental health as a former psychiatrist for the Ministry of Health

 

“There is a stigma here, many people think that these people are psychos.”

 

Mental health continues to be a taboo topic within the eyes of the public in Jordan and MENA, according to one former psychiatrist.

Samer Khader is a former psychiatrist for the Ministry of Health and is currently a forensic doctor for the Jordan court.

The Jordanian said he would like to get rid of the stigma for people with mental illnesses and create a more open culture on mental health.

“There is a stigma here, many people think that these people are psychos,” he said.

The doctor stated mental health was an important part of life and that it needed to be exposed more to the public.

According to WHO globally, more than 450 million people suffer from mental disorders with Jordan as one of the countries that are in need of intense support. Throughout the years there had been efforts from the government — such as implementing mental health into primary health care and mental health programs. However, it continues to lack implementation — noting that only 12 percent of schools offer counseling services.

Samer said it would be easier to tackle mental health if people were educated about it — stating media might be the key.

 

Samer felt people needed to be more educated regarding the importance of mental health

 

“People are not aware of the difference between mental health and mental illness. I think we can make people more aware through media,” he said.

“By educating everybody about the differences and [mental health] knowledge.

“Mental health is basic health that we should focus on, because everybody can be psychiatrists, for example watching out for certain symptoms like disorientation is the most common, and not noticing these things from the beginning doesn’t help, because it can easily get worst.”

The Global Health Middle East reported that MENA had the highest levels of mental disorders and too often face barriers when looking for help — 42 out of 78 reported to be because of stigma and cultural views.

“There are many clinics here but not too many people go to them, they’re not that popular,” he said.

“There is a big stigma because we live in a closed community and not many people make that much money from this occupation.”

 

The hardships of psychiatry

“However, within the [health] industry, the biggest challenge is trying to convince the other doctors that I’m a good doctor, because of my age, they look down on me.”

 

As a psychiatrist & a person who works within the mental health field, Samer constantly faces challenges

 

Due to the low demands of mental health care, the former psychiatrist had to change career paths for a more well-paid one.

“I work now as a forensic doctor, my second degree is in forensic,” he said.

“I used to work as a psychiatrist for the Ministry of Health — I specialise in antipsychotics.

“As a forensic doctor, I help the court in certain cases. I look at corpses for the court, it’s all I do now.

“I did it because I got more income.”

Samer said psychology had always been a subject that interested him, as well as having an uncle that experienced his own mental illness.

“I chose psychology at school, I just have always liked it,” he said.

“My uncle also had schizophrenia so I think that also affected my decision because I was always curious about why he was acting like he did.”

The path he had chose was not always an easy decision, encountering challenges in the way, however, it continued to be something he loved.

“Financial challenges is one of the biggest challenges I have faced,” he said.

“However, within the [health] industry, the biggest challenge is trying to convince the other doctors that I’m a good doctor, because of my age, they look down on me.”

 

The goal and what to do

 

Samer said many mental illnesses were underdiagnosed because of this stigma

 

“I want to change the people’s view’s about mental illnesses. It’s a disease, just like any other diseases, but it’s not talked about and you can’t help anyone if that’s the case.”

 

Samer said there were many types of disorders that may appear, however one of the most common one he had seen was schizophrenia.

“There are a lot of type of mental illnesses or health problems to occur, but one of the most common is bipolar, there are a lot of bipolar cases,” he said.

“Bipolar here is very underdiagnosed so not many people treat it or know what to do, so they just live with it.

“It’s underdiagnosed because of this stigma.”

He said more efforts were needed to break the mental health stigma and create an open space for discussion.

“We need to tell people that these type of illnesses is nothing but a normal disease, just like you’re body is sick, it’s the same,” he said.

The forensic doctor would like to do his part to get rid of the stigma by one day creating his own clinic or hospital.

“My dream is to have my own hospital, a psychiatric hospital,” he said.

“To establish my own center for social inclusion. Here in Jordan people don’t go to these kinds of doctors, because they want money.

“Anyone can be a patient, but you need a clinical ear and clinical eye to help you out.”

The father of three said he would like to continue to pursue the changing mindsets of his society and aimed for the proper care mental illness patients deserve.

“A lot of [mental illness patients] are more interesting people, I love them,” he said.

“I want to change the people’s view’s about mental illnesses. It’s a disease, just like any other diseases, but it’s not talked about and you can’t help anyone if that’s the case.”

 

“I want to change the people’s view’s about mental illnesses. It’s a disease, just like any other diseases, but it’s not talked about and you can’t help anyone if that’s the case.”

 

About

 

Samer Khader is a former psychiatrist for the Ministry of Health and is currently a forensic doctor for the Jordan court. Dr Samer wanted to get rid of the stigma people have towards mental illness patients and lack of care for mental health in the Middle East, especially Jordan.

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