Where Does The Stigma of Mental Health in The Arab Community Come From?


The stigma of mental health in the Arab community is issue that is still not talked enough about. Where does the stigma of mental health in the Arab community actually come from? The topic is so shut down that you don’t really find much Arab youth aspiring to be a psychiatrist or psychologist. Furthermore, the negative outlook on mental illness existed well before any sort of psychiatry practise became a formal discipline, making it one of the most stigmatized health issues globally. In the Arab world, having any sort of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or even various disorders is looked down upon because it shows a sign of weakness. It is also typically viewed as something embarrassing if leaked to the public. Realistically, this all goes back to how no one wants to look like they are not strong minded, or not capable of making proper decisions. Males especially have a hard time coming to terms with the idea that they might suffer from anxiety or OCD because they don’t want society to think that it would make them appear less manly. The last thing any man wants is to break down and cry because that’s not what they are taught men are supposed to do. Women on the other hand have their own unique issues that they struggle with when it comes to mental health. This includes is because society says no one will want to be with them or marry them if they are seen as someone “emotional” or ‘crazy’, a label almost every woman has gotten at some point or the other in her life.

The quick definition of a stigma is, “a mark or disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. This means that it is people in a specific region that influence the way we view a specific topic in the culture we live in. Stigma usually forms from 3 major components; stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Stereotype is a “widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”. Prejudice is, “a preconceived opinion that is not based on experience or reason”. If you look at both of these from an Middle Eastern communities perspective; the combination of both of these often result in the discrimination of individuals that have mental health issues. These negative connotations often create fear and uneasiness around a certain type of people, and often leads people to distance themselves from anyone that struggling. This can often result in people struggling with mental health issues to socially isolate themselves even more which just further increases the severity of the problem.  

The media can also play an important role in helping spread awareness by showcasing and normalizing people who struggle with mental health issues. Unfortunately, the media surrounding the stigma of mental health in the Arab community downplays the situation and showcases it as a problematic and unrealistic situation that people have to go through. This is completely false as it is well-known that issues that result from the brain can lead to major negative life impact if not treated properly. All of the false media coverage, stigma, and discrimination can lead people refusing to seek help, and consequently suffering in misery and isolation. 

How can you be a part of the change to destigmatize mental health in the Arab community? 

  1. Spreading positive awareness within your community. The faster people step up and normalize this situation, the more people can seek help and get better. 
  2. Reach out if you see someone is struggling. This is important because usually people struggling with issues like anxiety or depression typically tend to suffer in silence. If you notice someone who may need help, reach out and talk to them.
  3. Normalize seeking help. You can promote various ways people can seek help privately without anyone knowing. There are multiple self-help youtube videos, and apps like BetterHelp that can help individuals who are struggling and keep everything private.  
  4. Share your story. This is for the bold, the ones that feel comfortable enough to put themselves out there and share their anxiety story, or how they fought depression. Be the token of hope for so many people. 

If you want to see a better world, and a changed world, then it must start from within first. If you want to live in a society that finally accepts mental health issues and normalizes it, then it must start with you first. Together if we all work together, we can fight the negative outlook, stigma, and discrimination surrounding mental health issues. If we really look at it from a societal perspective, almost everyone struggles with some sort of mental issue even if it’s just low level of anxiety. So if we all struggle with something, then why don’t normalize it and try to “fix it”?  As Mahatma Gandhi said ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’.

by Mariam Asif – YLT Staff

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