Depression in Arabic Countries

Mental health comprises the way the brain functions and a person’s emotional health. If an individual is in a good state of mental health, they can generally cope with situations more efficiently or with less pain.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes good mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Mental health problems can inflict anybody, regardless of age, background, religion, or gender differences. This is true for people from Arab countries, where mental health issues are commonplace, just like in the rest of the world.

Mental Health Issues in the Arab World

For several reasons, accurate and up to date reporting on the true picture of mental health problems amongst Arab countries is difficult to acquire. This could be for a number of reasons, including mental health stigma, sociodemographic factors, and a lack of access to formal psychiatric care.

A systematic review of various research papers looking at mental health in the Arab world advised that more money should be invested in mental health research in the region to get up to speed with mental health research across the globe. It emphasised that the region also faces a high number of external triggers which could intensify mental health disorders such as widely experienced trauma as a result of war, violent regimes, and displacement. For this reason, it is imperative to shine a light on the prevalence of mental illness in Arab countries.

A recent study identified the scale at which young people in the Arab world live with mental health issues. It found that approximately 200 million young Arabs were living with addiction, anxiety, and depression.

Another study by a recent United Arab Emirates (UAE) initiative found discrepancies between the mental health conditions participants would access help for. The study found that over 60% of individuals would seek help from mental health professionals if they were experiencing suicidal ideation. In contrast, only 36% would seek mental health services if they were experiencing disordered eating.

Depression in Arabic Countries

What Is Depression?

Depression is characterised by feelings of prolonged and inescapable low mood, often accompanied by a loss of interest in things that one previously enjoyed. Depression is different from sadness. Whilst it is a normal part of being human to feel sad, when it continues for long periods and feels inescapable, this could signify clinical depression.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-V) states that a diagnosis for depression can be made when an individual presents with at least five of the following depressive symptoms for more than two weeks, and it is causing visible distress and disruption to their life:

  • Depressed mood for the majority of the day (sadness, frustration, tearfulness)
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Sleeping difficulties such as insomnia (sleeplessness) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • Change in appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slow cognition
  • Pervasive thoughts about death
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

What Causes Depression?

There are a variety of factors that contribute to depression. These include:

  • Biological factors. Biological factors could include genetics, biological makeup, and hormone function. Studies involving twins have shown that the predisposition for depression could be inherited. As neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and adrenaline play a vital role in the evolution of depression, an imbalance in these hormones could contribute to depression. Another biological factor could be gender, as women are found to experience depression more than men.
  • Environmental factors. Environmental stress can perpetuate existing depression or trigger underlying mental illnesses. This includes experiencing stress for prolonged periods, traumatic events, family or relationship problems, grief, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and catastrophes such as war or natural disaster. It is also thought that spending time with people who have negative outlooks can increase the risk of developing depression as it affects a person’s thinking patterns over time.
  • Personal factors. People with specific personal characteristics tend to be at higher risk of developing depression. This includes people who have low-self esteem or a lack of self-confidence, and it can also include those who are perfectionists or are particularly self-critical.

Depression is unique for all individuals; a number of these factors ultimately result in a diagnosis of a depressive disorder. However, the more risk factors somebody is exposed to, the higher the likelihood of experiencing clinical depression.

Depression and Mental Illness Amongst Arab Populations

Depression in the Arab world is on the rise, with approximately three in 10 people across the region saying they suffer from depression.

In particular, depression in individuals from certain Arab countries is reported at much higher rates than elsewhere, with research highlighting that:

  • 43% of people in Iraq have depression
  • 40% of people in Tunisia experience depression
  • 37% of Palestinians live with depression

The cause of this rise could be attributed to a number of factors, such as stigmatisation and insufficient mental health support.


Research has found that people from Arab countries express negative attitudes towards formal mental health services and may be less inclined to use them. It is common for individuals to describe mental health problems as physical symptoms instead of psychological issues in the Middle East. This could be attributed to individual attempts to avoid stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

Women in the Arab world are at greater risk of developing mental health issues, which is deepened by the gender inequality found in some Arab countries. It is widely considered that there is a necessity to develop more suitable and accessible means of mental health systems across the Arab region, focusing on culturally sensitive mental health interventions.

The use of alcohol and illicit drugs is prohibited by law in most Arab countries, increasing the level of stigmatisation for individuals living with substance abuse. It is also thought that this contributes to a lack of comprehensive data regarding substance use, creating a barrier to developing and accessing formal mental health services.

Insufficient Mental Health Support

A comprehensive study looking at 20 countries in the Arab region found that six did not have existing mental health legislation, and two did not have a mental health policy. The highest number of psychiatrists per capita was found in Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait, with seven countries – Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – having less than 0.5 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.

Furthermore, the budget allocated for mental health from the wider health budget was far below the necessary range to increase mental health services.

Mental Health Recovery

At Addcounsel, we are familiar with the uphill battle of coping with depression alone, which is why we are here to help. We also understand the significance of cultural and societal issues when considering mental illness and treatment approaches. Because of this, we take great consideration and care when sculpting recovery programmes for every individual who walks through our doors.

We employ evidence-based treatment programmes, combining a range of therapy modalities, medical excellence, and compassionate care to help each person enhance their psychological well-being. Our clients work closely with a highly skilled psychological team to maintain engagement throughout the treatment process.

We are the only luxury rehab centre in the UK that offers exclusive Arabic language services for Arabic speaking clients in completely private accommodation. This ensures each person goes through the recovery process in the safest and most understanding hands. We treat one client at a time, enabling us to focus all of our attention on each persons changing needs throughout recovery.

Our Arabic speaking medical team have been individually selected for their high quality of work. We are sensitive and compassionate when it comes to cultural and religious aspects upon treating clients from Arab countries, and we are mindful that many of our clients encounter an additional challenge in their battle with addiction: mental health stigmatisation. However, in our centre, treatment comes with guaranteed confidentiality and support.

If you have any questions about our services or would like to discuss treatment plans, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.


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