Men mental health
The downsides to mental health are no longer the sole concern of the individual or the family. Image Credit: Shutterstock

For those working in the field of mental health, COVID-19 served a dual purpose. The first is to drive many millions of people into psychological despair.

There are myriad causes with examples - including economic worries, loneliness, isolation, domestic abuse, and substance abuse. The second outcome is that the sheer scale of the global mental health crisis is such that it is no longer possible to ignore it.

With the pandemic affecting critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries, it is a public health crisis that policymakers and stakeholders must get to grips with.

Research shows that the number of people reporting poor mental health after COVID-19 has risen threefold, and that 60 per cent of survey respondents changed their view of mental well-being as a result of the pandemic.

Policymakers have also gained a greater understanding. In New Zealand, a new $1.9 billion fund has been announced for mental health services, while in the UAE the government’s National Agenda includes a ‘National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing’.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community”.

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Taking a toll at work

Anybody who has suffered from mental health problems will know how difficult it is to perform well in the workplace when dealing with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), crippling anxiety, suicidal thoughts and more. A healthy mind and healthy body are crucial to resilience, productivity, and life fulfilment.

Unsurprisingly, mental illnesses cost economies billions each year, undermining operational efficacy and productivity.

Make help available

Our 2020 report on mental health explains how 34 per cent of those surveyed suffered from mental illness before the pandemic. And of those, only one in four had access to treatment services through either a lack of accessibility, awareness, or affordability.

Encouragingly, however, it also shows that 70 per cent said they learned to accept those seeking professional help, indicating an easing of the stigma attached to mental illness.

Acceptance of a need

It is crucial that as governments and society at large come to terms with this crisis, insurers also step up – because patients are ready to seek help if it is provided. The good news is that, according to research, more than seven out of 10 UAE residents would seek professional help if they or someone they knew was suffering from mental health problems.

This reflects a maturation of attitudes and experiences in the country – thanks in part to the bold policy direction that the UAE has taken over recent years.

Today, the UAE government provides treatment and professional services across the country, while the Dubai Health Authority’s (DHA) inclusive mental health strategy - known as ‘Happy Lives, Healthy Communities’ - raises awareness in the community.

Other government initiatives include the ‘Stigma Ends When a Conversation Begins’ by Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), which also aims to address the stigma and empower patients to seek treatment. This openness – and compassion – is relatively new to the Arab world.

In interest of all

Recognising mental health as an important (and business-critical) aspect of personal and professional success serves the interests of companies and employees – and those of shareholders – by raising awareness and encouraging individuals to seek help. Only by seeking help can the individual gain diagnosis and help from medical and professionals’ experts.

In our report, 41 per cent of respondents were unaware of online support for mental health. Online provision is now a critical component in the fight back against mental illness that insurance companies must add to their armouries. For the 5.1 per cent of the UAE population that suffer from mental health problems such services provide a road back to confidence, happiness, and a fulfilling life both.

For many, they will save lives.

- Dr. Sherif A. Mahmoud, Head of Employee Benefits Services & Retention at AXA Gulf.