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The Number One Reason People in the Middle East Avoid Therapy

The number one reason many people around the world avoid therapy.

Look me in the eye and tell me we are not all a bunch of maniacs.

Sanity is overrated anyway; it is seldom—if ever—a source of creativity.

In the Middle East, if you imply that you’ve noticed a mental illness symptom, people would shame you, judge you, bully you and label you crazy. Many would not want to hire you, marry you or even be acquainted with you.

In this part of the world, it is acceptable for people to treat their mental illness by inflicting pain on others but not by seeing a therapist. Psychopaths run loose and their assaults go unquestioned while sophisticated people who wish to seek professional help are deemed unreliable, unstable and, above all, insane.

We also have the ‘pious’ folk who have the guts to tell a bipolar or depressed person that the source of their mental illness is lack of faith. Very cool.

The Stigma

Psychologist Ashley J. Smith, PhD, pointed out that the first barrier which prevents people from getting needed mental health services is the stigma associated with it.

“It is an issue, particularly within some populations,” she said, “The prevailing view that ‘mental illness’ is different from other illnesses or disorders typically viewed as more physical or medical in nature prevents people from seeking help.”

“Many mental illnesses are neurobiological in nature (e.g. anxiety, OCD, depression, ADHD, etc.) and are much more appropriately viewed in a manner similar to high blood pressure or diabetes—chronic medical conditions that require effective pharmacological and behavioral/lifestyle interventions.”

People who refrain from seeking professional help are usually afraid that if they admit being mentally ill, they will not be fully accepted into society, according to behavioral expert and family counselor, Michael Herbert.

He believes the case is similar to the denial and shame connected to addiction.

“I worked in Egypt and with many people from the Middle East, and the number one reason they came to me was because I’m a foreigner, which made them feel less judged,” he said.

Psychologist Marsha D. Brown, PhD, explained that “in some communities and/or cultures, mental illness is not something that is discussed outside the family, let alone with an outsider, such as a mental health professional.”

“Additionally, in some cultures, symptoms of mental illness may be perceived as an indication that a person needs to pray more or increase church attendance. It may also be seen as a sign that a spell has been cast or that the devil is trying to influence the affected individual.”

She also said that while the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimated that about 20 percent of adults in the US will experience a mental illness in any given year, there is great stigma attached to mental illness in the US.

“Unfortunately, many people in the general public hold inaccurate preconceived notions about mental illness and those with it,” she added.

“Moreover, people who may be experiencing symptoms of mental illness believe others will think they are ‘crazy’ or ‘nuts’ if they disclose their symptoms. Part of this is due to the unfortunate media portrayal of people with mental illness as dangerous and unstable.”

Social norms and ‘what others think of us’ continue to control most Middle Eastern societies, and acting in rebellion is often very difficult when an individual is stifled by peer pressure and an unforgiving community. Freeing oneself of outdated ideas and traditions often means not being accepted by a certain society/community, which could be a very high price for many. 

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