Mental Health Research in the Arab Region: Overcoming Challenges and Driving Change

As we delve into the intricate landscape of mental health challenges in the Arab region, our compass is guided by the groundbreaking work of Prof Anne E Becker, MD, Prof Majda Cheour, MD, Hala Darwish, PhD, and their esteemed colleagues (Mental health research in the Arab region: challenges and call for action). Published on July 18, 2019, in The Lancet Psychiatry, this pivotal study not only serves as a cornerstone of knowledge but also propels our exploration into the complexities of mental health disparities. Let us embark on this enlightening journey together, drawing from the rich insights provided by these eminent researchers.

Mental Health Arab Region See with Palm Trees


In the realm of global public health, mental disorders pose a significant challenge, and this holds especially true for the Arab region. Despite constituting 5.54% of the global population, Arab countries contribute only 1.0% to the global output of peer-reviewed publications in mental health research. This glaring disparity calls for immediate attention and concerted efforts to address the existing challenges. Led by prominent researchers and experts, a comprehensive action plan has been proposed to elevate mental health research in the Arab region.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as a beacon of excellence in the realm of mental health research, making significant strides in addressing the complex challenges outlined below. The nation’s commitment to advancing mental health awareness and research infrastructure positions it as a leader in the global pursuit of improved mental well-being.

The Burden of Mental Health Disorders in the Arab Region

With a population of 425 million people, the Arab region faces a higher burden of mental disorders, measured by disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), compared to the global average. However, the research output from the region does not align with the magnitude of the problem. The need for locally relevant empirical evidence becomes evident, as it not only aids in understanding cultural nuances but also ensures effective delivery of mental health care.

Challenges Identified

1. Prevalent Stigma and Decreased Awareness

Cultural beliefs surrounding mental illness contribute to pervasive stigma, hindering individuals from seeking formal treatment. In the Arab region, seeking informal resources is more common to avoid the stigma associated with professional psychiatric help. Overcoming these barriers requires targeted efforts to educate the public, engage religious leaders, and leverage social media platforms to challenge misconceptions.

2. Conflict and War

The political unrest and armed conflicts in many Arab countries have shifted the focus of research agendas towards humanitarian crises. Arab researchers face the challenge of responding to immediate community needs amidst these tumultuous conditions.

3. Scarce Resources

Limited funding remains a significant obstacle to mental health research in the Arab region. While collaborative efforts have been encouraged, budget cuts in recent years have shifted the funding landscape, with co-funding becoming a preferred option. National priorities often overlook mental health, diverting research focus towards other health conditions.

4. Insufficient Publishing Opportunities

The dearth of scientific journals specialized in mental health in the Arab region poses a challenge for researchers aiming for high-tier international publications. Existing journals face problems such as low submissions, finding peer reviewers, and limited presence in key indices. Improving the administration of these journals is crucial to enhancing their visibility and impact.

5. Insufficient Training

Mental health research training in the Arab region occurs through various pathways, including clinical training, additional training for academic careers, and independent research training. However, the translation of this training into active research careers is hindered by inadequate funding, insufficient mentorship, and a lack of well-defined pathways.

6. Shortage of Reliable and Valid Assessment Tools

The absence of Arabic-validated and culturally appropriate assessment tools poses a significant challenge. Developing and validating these tools is a meticulous process that requires interdisciplinary collaboration to ensure their accuracy and relevance across diverse populations.

arabic education psychology books
Unlocking Minds: Nourishing Knowledge and Understanding through Education

Proposed Action Plan

In response to these challenges, a comprehensive action plan has been formulated to drive change and elevate mental health research in the Arab region. The plan encompasses the following key strategies:

1. Spread Awareness and Address Stigma

  • Educate patients and their families about mental illness.
  • Raise awareness among the public, especially the youth, through educational platforms.
  • Utilize social media as a powerful tool for disseminating information.
  • Engage religious leaders to promote understanding and acceptance.

2. Increase Collaborative Research

  • Foster regional collaborations through platforms like the Arab Regional Center for Research and Training.
  • Encourage multidisciplinary collaborations, particularly during the development of Arabic instruments.
  • Enhance funding support for international collaborations through partnerships with organizations like the Fogarty International Center and the Wellcome Trust.

3. Strengthen Infrastructure of Regional Research

  • Establish Institutional Review Boards to ensure ethical research practices.
  • Develop entities to support core research functions, such as clinical research institutes.
  • Invest in independent academic institutions to provide the necessary training and support for mental health research.

4. Strengthen the Mental Health Workforce

  • Ensure medical students have adequate exposure to psychiatry.
  • Introduce postgraduate training programs in psychiatry and clinical psychology to nurture a skilled workforce.

5. Translate Research Findings into Action

  • Engage stakeholders in prioritizing, conducting, and translating research.
  • Communicate findings to governmental advisors and officials, emphasizing the societal impact of mental health.
  • Disseminate findings to the public through various platforms, including conventional and social media.
  • Share findings with mental health professionals and other healthcare professionals at local conferences to drive advocacy efforts.


The proposed action plan provides a roadmap for overcoming the challenges faced by mental health research in the Arab region. By addressing stigma, enhancing collaborative efforts, building research infrastructure, strengthening the workforce, and translating research findings into actionable insights, this plan aims to bridge the gap between the Arab countries and the rest of the world in terms of mental health research productivity.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Open chat
Zita Chriszto | Clinical Psychologist
Hello 👋
How can I help you?