In the second episode of its new series, popular SAT-7 women’s program Needle and New Thread addresses mental health problems, which affect millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Together with her guest, psychiatrist Malak Sherif Doss, presenter Riham Jarjour discussed different types of mental illness and their causes. The presenters explained how the stigma that is often attached to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety in the MENA could put even more pressure on those seeking treatment.

Doss advised viewers on how they can support a friend or family member who is going through a mental health crisis without excluding or stereotyping them. Jarjour spoke directly to viewers who are experiencing mental health problems, telling them that they are not alone and encouraging them to try to explore the possible causes of their symptoms, rather than ignoring or hiding them.


The presenters took live calls from viewers, including one from a young woman who suffered from postnatal depression, which eventually improved when treated with medication. Other callers shared about issues including claustrophobia, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The show included a field report, in which children were asked to describe how they view those in their communities who suffer from mental health issues, and a report on a psychiatric hospital in Cairo. Viewers also heard from several experts including Sandra Wadie, who runs, a website where women can share their feelings, tell their stories, and find community.


More than 5 percent of the population in the MENA have been found to suffer from depression, making it the most depressed region in the world.¹ The political upheaval and conflict that has wracked many areas in recent decades may be partly behind the region’s mental health crisis. Refugees and displaced people are particularly severely affected by mental illness, with at least 50 percent of refugees who reach Europe found to need professional help for illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a large gap across the MENA region between people in need of treatment and those receiving it. In Iraq, for example, just 100 psychiatrists were available to the country’s population of 30 million in 2010 – even before the most recent turmoil created by the invasion of ISIS in 2014. Many people ignore their symptoms, attribute their issues to a spiritual problem, or turn to treatments such as traditional healing. Lack of available treatment can often exacerbate the problem.

Women in the MENA are more likely to report suffering from depression than men, by a greater percentage gap than their counterparts in the West.² Possible environmental reasons for this larger gender gap include women’s relatively lower levels of personal agency, the low economic status of many families in some areas, or anxiety caused by the high importance some Middle Eastern societies place on childbearing.

Men, who are often the public face of a family, may face pressure to hide their feelings and maintain a strong exterior. In some countries, such as Iran, addiction is a widespread problem that may contribute to mental health concerns.

1. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2013 data
2. Plos Medicine, 2010 data

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