To date, no studies have attempted to prevent postpartum depression or anxiety in Arabic-speaking women in the Middle East, including Qatar.
When Khadija, 34, a Sudanese living in Qatar, gave birth in August 2020, she wished to be surrounded by her husband and mother, who had been present during her first pregnancy in 2018. However, due to restrictions to COVID-19, she was forced to stay alone in the hospital.
“I cried all the time in the hospital because they wouldn’t allow my husband to stay longer than 15 minutes; my mother was also only able to visit me for 10-15 minutes,” said Khadija, who later suffered from severe postpartum depression (PPD) after giving birth.
The health clinic did not test her for PPD, a medical condition that many women contract after having a baby, characterized by strong feelings of sadness, anxiety and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
Three days after giving birth, she was discharged from the hospital, and when she got home, her anxiety increased. She hated her body. She cried every day, and this feeling lasted for a few months.
Khadija’s experience is not unique. According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the prevalence of anxiety and depression by 25% worldwide.
Devastating challenges, such as death, health fears, economic conflict and physical social isolation, have weighed on the mental health of millions around the world in recent years, disproportionately affecting women and men. mothers at a higher rate.
Despite this unfortunate increase, the heightened impact of the pandemic on mental health has proven to be a silver lining, easing mental health stigma and expanding services and accessibility across countries.
This is seen in an increase in digital mental health (DMH) around the world, with more people using therapy apps, hotlines and even social media such as TikTok for mental health diagnosis and care.
Mental health and wellness apps include journaling, meditation tools, mood trackers, and apps that connect users with licensed professionals for therapy.
Although many of these platforms already existed before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their growth as many of them positioned themselves as solutions to bridge the access gap created by the global health crisis.
Before the pandemic, many people did not have access to traditional forms of therapy, which involved patients and therapists sitting face to face. However, increased demand from patients seeking more easily accessible therapy services has led to the development of mental health apps around the world.
In Qatar, a new online therapy app called Therapy, the first of its kind, makes mental health care more accessible for women like Khadija, who are often forced to suffer in silence due to mental health stigma and lack of confidential access to needed help.
Fighting Mental Health Stigma and Accessibility
While Therappy had been in the works since before the pandemic hit, the app was officially launched on the Apple Store in June 2022, making it the first Qatar-based app that provides online counseling from the comfort of your home. .
The founders of this app, Najla AlKuwari and Noof Almahmoud, sought help from mental health resources after becoming new mothers and coping with the pressures of parenting and postpartum. They came up with this idea after seeing the lack of access to mental health services tailored to their specific needs.
“We have noticed that many mothers avoid going to a medical clinic to seek mental health care for fear of stigma, for fear of being labeled a bad mother,” AlKuwari said. Doha Newsstressing that the app aims to reduce stigma by providing users with online access to psychological counseling through video sessions, messages and calls.
“So far we have over 450 registered clients on the platform, and right now we have nearly 20 verified therapists who can be booked through the app,” she added.
Funded by the Qatar Foundation, the app allows you to book a session discreetly and with therapists from different backgrounds, including Arabic speakers who understand the cultural context of the region.
Compared to in-person sessions, this app is more affordable, providing access to users who may not have health insurance or enough money to afford regular standard therapy sessions.
“We have a price range from QR 180 when the in-person appointment range is between QR 400-600,” AlKuwari said. Doha News.
“So we hope to be able to provide support and help to anyone who needs it, and we hope to be a global platform in the future, offering the widest range of therapists from different backgrounds,” she added.
Privacy Concerns: Is Online Therapy Better?
Although in-person therapy may seem better due to face-to-face interactions, the online mental health industry has been booming since the pandemic.
“There are many apps serving people in North America, but there’s still a general lack of apps helping people in the Middle East, which is what we’re trying to do,” AlKuwari said. Doha News.
Regarding the protection of consumers and their private information, AlKuwari argued that this app offers more privacy than real in-person therapy sessions in the region.
“We don’t need a lot of personal information, we don’t take your credentials. We don’t take your resident information, which you are required to give in person. We only need your first name and your email address,” she said, addressing the security issues generated by online spaces.
App users select a therapist by browsing a list of providers that includes thumbnail photos, biographies that look like resumes, and client reviews.
Clients can switch therapists at any time using the apps, with the transfer of information between therapists done securely and confidentially.
Mental health care during the pandemic
Qatar has worked to fight stigma and raise awareness of the importance of mental health in the country.
The country’s mental health line has received more than 37,000 calls since its launch in April 2020, Hamad Medical Corporation [HMC] Told Doha News in October last year.
The helpline, launched in collaboration with Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health and the Primary Health Care Corporation, is run by a team of mental health professionals who provide assessment and support to between 200 and 300 callers. per week.
According to the World Federation for Mental Health, between 75% and 95% of people with mental disorders who live in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to mental health services. However, problems of access also arise in richer countries, but at a slower rate.
Stigma remains a big concern and often people with mental illness do not receive the treatment to which they are entitled due to the stigma and discrimination they experience with their family or caregivers.
Sidra Medicine’s perinatal health clinic is also one of the first of its kind in Qatar to provide mental health care to mothers like Khadija, who often suffer from postpartum depression and other mental health issues.
Before the pandemic, 29% of new mothers had symptoms of anxiety, while 15% reported feelings of depression.
The numbers have nearly tripled since the pandemic, with 72% of new mothers reporting symptoms of anxiety and 41% reporting symptoms of depression.
Research by Sidra Medicine in collaboration with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that perinatal mental health disorders are more prevalent among women living in Qatar than in most Western countries.
“Although there are interventions to prevent postpartum depression and anxiety, to date no studies have attempted to prevent postpartum depression or anxiety in Arabic-speaking women in the Middle East, including in Qatar,” researchers said.
This new therapeutic app removes some of these barriers, increasing accessibility and awareness of mental health care in the region.
“In our society, it takes a lot of courage to admit that you need help. And it takes a lot of courage to go for that help, that’s why this app is important,” AlKuwari concluded.