To date, no studies have attempted to prevent postpartum depression and anxiety among Arabic-speaking women in the Middle East, including Qatar.
When Khadija, 34, a Sudanese living in Qatar, gave birth in August 2020, she wanted to be surrounded by the husband and mother who were present during her first pregnancy in 2018. She will be hospitalized alone.
“I cried all the time at the hospital because my husband wasn’t allowed to stay longer than 15 minutes. PPD), Khadija said.
Health clinics did not test for PPD, a condition that many women develop after giving birth. It is characterized by intense sadness, anxiety, and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
I was discharged from the hospital three days after giving birth, and when I got home, my anxiety increased. She hated her body. She cried every day and this feeling lasted for months.
The Khadija experience is not an isolated event. According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the prevalence of anxiety and depression to increase by 25% worldwide.
In recent years, devastating challenges such as death, health insecurity, economic strife and physical social isolation have taken a toll on the mental health of millions of people around the world, with women and mothers has a disproportionately high proportion of
Despite this unfortunate rise, the growing impact of the pandemic on mental health has shown to be a silver lining, with mental health stigma easing and services and accessibility expanding across the country. .
We see this in the rise of Digital Mental Health (DMH) around the world. More and more people are using therapy apps, hotlines and even social media like his TikTok for mental health diagnosis and care.
Applications for mental health and wellness include journaling, meditation tools, mood trackers, and apps that connect users with licensed professionals for therapy.
Many of these platforms already existed before 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated their growth as many are positioned as solutions to fill the access gaps widened by the global health crisis. Did.
Before the pandemic, many people did not have access to the traditional treatment of sitting face-to-face between the patient and the therapist. But growing demand from patients for more easily accessible treatment services has led to the development of mental health apps around the world.
in Qatar, therapy, The first attempt of its kind is to make mental health care more accessible to women like Khadijah. She is often forced to suffer in silence because of the stigma of mental health and lack of covert access to the help she needs.
Mental health stigma and accessibility challenges
Therappy has been around since before the pandemic hit, but the app officially launched in Apple stores in June 2022, making it the first Qatar-based app to offer online counseling from the comfort of your own home.
The app’s founders, Najla AlKuwari and Noof Almahmoud, turned to mental health resources for help after becoming new mothers and dealing with the pressures of parenting and postpartum. They came up with the idea after realizing a lack of access to mental health services tailored to their specific needs.
“I have noticed that many mothers avoid going to clinics for mental health care for fear of being stigmatized or labeled as a bad mother,” AlKwari said. doha newsemphasizes that the app aims to reduce stigma by providing users with online access to psychological counseling through video sessions, messages and phone calls.
“So far, we have over 450 clients signed up on the platform, and we currently have nearly 20 certified therapists available to book through the app,” she added.
Funded by the Qatar Foundation, the app allows you to discreetly book sessions with therapists of diverse backgrounds, including Arabic speakers who understand the cultural context of the region.
Compared to face-to-face sessions, the app is affordable and offers access to users without health insurance or who don’t have enough money for regular standard treatment sessions.
“If the face-to-face booking range is between 400 and 600 QR, we have a price range starting from QR180 onwards,” AlKwari said. doha news.
“So our hope is that we can provide support and help to everyone who needs it, and in the future we hope to become a global platform that offers a wide range of therapists from different backgrounds. .
Privacy Concerns: Is Online Therapy Better?
In-person therapy may sound better because you interact face-to-face, but since the pandemic, the online mental health industry has been booming.
“There are many apps that serve people in North America, but there is still a general lack of apps that help people in the Middle East, and that is what we are trying to do,” AlKwari said. doha news.
In terms of protecting consumers and their personal information, AlKuwari claimed the app offered more privacy than actual face-to-face therapy sessions in the area.
“We don’t need much personal information. We don’t get ID information. We don’t get your resident information that you are obligated to provide directly. We only need your name and email. ,” she said, addressing safety concerns raised by the online space.
App users select a therapist by examining a list of providers that includes thumbnail photos, resume-like bios, and client reviews.
Clients can switch therapists at any time using the app, and information transfer between therapists is secure and confidential.
Mental health care during a pandemic
Qatar has worked to tackle stigma and raise awareness about the importance of mental health in the country.
Since its launch in April 2020, the country’s mental health line has received more than 37,000 calls.Hamad Medical Corporation [HMC] Said doha news in October last year.
Launched in partnership with the Qatar Ministry of Public Health and the Primary Health Care Corporation, the helpline is run by a team of mental health professionals who provide assessments and support to 200 to 300 callers a week. I’m here.
According to the World Federation of Mental Health, between 75% and 95% of people with mental disorders living in low- and middle-income countries have no access to mental health services. However, access problems occur even in wealthy countries, albeit at a lower incidence.
Stigma remains a major concern, and in many cases people with mental illness do not receive the treatment they are entitled to because of the stigma and discrimination they experience with family members and caregivers.
Sidra Medicine’s perinatal care clinic is also one of the first in Qatar to provide mental health care for mothers like Khadija, who often experience postnatal depression and other mental health issues.
Before the pandemic, 29% of new mothers experienced symptoms of anxiety and 15% reported feeling depressed.
That number has nearly tripled since the pandemic, with 72% of new mothers reporting symptoms of anxiety and 41% experiencing symptoms of depression.
A Sidra Medicine study conducted in collaboration with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that perinatal mental health disorders are more common among women living in Qatar than in most Western countries. .
“Although interventions exist to prevent postpartum depression and anxiety, so far there are no studies that have attempted to prevent postpartum depression and anxiety among Arabic-speaking women in the Middle East, including Qatar. No,” said the researcher.
This new therapy app removes some of these barriers, increasing accessibility and awareness of mental health care in the community.
“In our society, it takes a lot of courage to admit that you need help. And it takes a lot of courage to go and ask for help. That’s why this app is important.”