Mental health
UAE and Gulf employers are getting the message about the havoc mental health issues has on staff morale and more. They need to step up their game to counter it. Image Credit: Supplied

The World Mental Health Day observed on October 10 provides us with an opportunity to take stock of how attitudes - and treatments - for mental health problems in Middle East societies are changing.

Peer-reviewed research of over 16,000 patients in the GCC shows that social and cultural attitudes have evolved to some extent, but that a high proportion have a negative attitude toward people with mental illnesses. Less than 50 per cent of participants have been able to recognize some common disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Though there is evidence that there is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health, there remains a lack of investment in mental health services. A June 2022 report from PwC underscores the socioeconomic impacts of untreated mental illness.

The economic case

For those with mental health challenges who remain in the workplace, there is evidence that there can be a negative impact on productivity – because they can impair an individual’s ability to function at full capacity. The report states that in the GCC, at least 37.5 million productive days are lost per year due to untreated mental illness, equivalent to $3.5 billion.

The report states that in the GCC, at least 37.5 million productive days are lost per year due to untreated mental illness, equivalent to $3.5 billion.


In the developed economies – often regarded as more advanced in mental health literacy – evidence from London-based Royal College of Psychiatrists shows significant impacts on employment rates, worklessness, sickness absence, isolation, and rising state-funded benefit costs.

While the state and health educators have a leading role to play, employers can also make a difference. Through the development of mental health safety net mechanisms and the provision of psychological treatment options, companies can safeguard an individual’s personal well-being and protect productivity.

For firms that invest in comprehensive employee health insurance plans, mental health services are increasingly sophisticated and easier to access. Evidence shows that many employees are clamoring for mental health and wellness support.

Struggling employees need help

GIG Gulf reported that 60 per cent of its health policy members – across multiple GCC countries - had been affected by anxiety over the past 3 years. And 38 per cent reported suffering from depression and 15 per cent from panic disorder. In total, 56 per cent of the firm’s policy members stated that workplace pressures had negatively impacted their mental well-being within the past six months.

Bosses can help

The MyWellness Week, which focused on four pillars of My Mind, My Relationships, My Success, and My Body, sought to understand how employees feel towards their boss’s role in mental health support. Over 52 per cent of participants felt that ‘all employers should proactively offer support for their employees’ – suggesting that a growing number of people expect their bosses to look out for their general well-being.

We have leveraged technology to enhance its mental health and well-being programs, particularly for men who often face unique barriers to accessing mental healthcare.


These barriers may include social expectations, fear of perceived weakness, and concerns over professional identity.

By creating a more discreet and accessible customer journey, the initiative allows men to seek help from the comfort of their own safe spaces, thereby helping to dispel stigmas and achieving equitable mental healthcare provision for everybody in the workplace.

It holds additional benefits like reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity, ultimately contributing to a more positive corporate culture.

Hope for the future

By widening access to mental health and wellness services, insurers and employees have the ability to work together to build brighter personal and professional futures for their employees. Recent data from Forbes suggests every $1 invested in people saves a company $6 in company healthcare costs. Companies that prioritize employee wellness have higher employee engagement, productivity, and morale.

For insurers, there is a powerful role to play. By acting as proponents of mental health openness and treatment, insurance companies can create bespoke wellness and mental health journeys that improve overall societal awareness of mental health problems. Moreover, they have the ability to help remove the continued stigma that affects the potential for treatment in our region.