Getting support for mental health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
By: Mohammed Alquwaizani, General Manager, Janssen Saudi Arabia
“You are not alone.”
While dealing with mental illness, it can be hard to connect with others. There is a feeling of constantly being judged or the feeling of the stigma that leads to isolation.
But asking for help and seeking help isn’t something we should be ashamed of.
Mental illness wears so many different faces – if we look around closely, even the ones who are strong, have a smile on their faces, or those who are super successful can be victims of mental health disorders.
Mental Health is a critical part of our overall health and well-being. It underpins our abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape our world. Maintaining good mental health is paramount for personal, community, and socio-economic development.
It affects how we think, feel, and act and determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood[i].
According to the WHO, one in every four people suffers from a mental health issue, globally at some point in their lives.
In the GCC, studies have shown that approximately 15% of the population is believed to suffer from mental disorders in any given year according to PWC’s recent report[ii].
The Global Burden of Disease study estimates that mental disorders are just as common in the GCC as they are worldwide, yet tend to be underreported due to poor awareness, stigma, shortage in mental health care professionals, and lack of equitable financing. This indicates the need for greater collaboration across the entire healthcare ecosystem to increase access to mental health care for GCC residents.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made great strides to address the country’s mental health crisis, declaring mental health a priority in its Vision 2030 strategic plan to ensure the country’s future as a nation where all people thrive, live peacefully, and stay safe.
Today four in five of those suffering from mental health illnesses in Saudi Arabia are not seeking help or treatment, according to a PWC landmark report, Why GCC Governments should invest more in Mental Health. 
Stigma is a major barrier to accessing mental health care and this is often due to misconceptions and limited understanding of the diagnoses, social and cultural beliefs, and stereotypical media portrayals of people with mental illnesses.
In 2020, the National Center for Mental Health in the Kingdom launched the ‘Labayh Al Amal’ initiative to provide confidential psychological counselling through a free smartphone app, as well as engage public sector employees through the ‘Promoting Mental Health in the Work Environment program to enhance their efficiency and productivity at work.
In addition to this, the Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control has published a ‘Preventive Guide for Mental and Social Health, which recommends some best practices for mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For over 60 years, Janssen has been addressing essential needs, reducing the burden, disability, and devastation caused by serious neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.
At Janssen, we are collaborating with key healthcare stakeholders to improve patient outcomes. With key stakeholders, we are in line to develop a new reform for the mental health system, with a common vision of providing the best possible integrated mental health services while changing attitudes as well as tackling stigma towards mental illness.
Our mission is to help to reduce the burden, disability, and devastation caused by mental health disorders and transform individual lives.
Today, more than ever, we need to stand together and bring awareness to the prevalence of mental illness. We have to say out aloud that getting support for mental health isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of strength.