laith Habash with Dr. Maha Darwish – Trainer, teacher, and consultant in mental health
It is Okay to Heal… A Mental Health Journey
“After few sessions, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
You could not see it!
“I just thought I wasn’t worthy of seeing it.”
This is a part of a conversation between me and a friend of mine who has started therapy two years ago. I was surprised she had taken that step as she always looked cheerful and balanced. Thus, I realized that what drives people to seek therapy is not usually something you can see!
I chose the youth mental health topic to write my blog, and after a thorough search for people who would help me find answers to the questions that linger inside my mind and the enquiries Generation 01 team has, I was delighted to meet Dr. Maha Darwish, a mental health expert. My guest holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Lebanese University, and works in the fields of training, teaching, and counselling as regards mental health. She works in a consulting office to follow up on psychological cases in Zarqa, which is funded by non-governmental organizations, where she often exercises her work as a volunteer.
Who needs to see a psychiatrist? More accurately, who does not?
Amidst the hectic lifestyle nowadays, daily pressures, endless social media notifications, successive news and events, accompanied by an inability to understand our feelings and organize our thoughts, I see that we all may need at some point a psychiatrist or a mental health specialist who helps us find solutions to the symptoms we are experiencing.
While these symptoms may vary; From symptoms of emotional and cognitive disorders to mental symptoms that may literally separate us from reality, the first step remains, to recognize that there is a problem that must be solved. Yet, we find it arduous to confess the issue, why?
The stigma of seeing a psychiatrist, in my opinion, is the first obstacle; The fear of carrying around the “Consumed by Madness” label. Evidentially, any statistics that we may refer to today on the issue of mental illness and its prevalence is not accurate, due to the tendency of many individuals to hide the truth.
My guest commented on this saying: “You might ask a woman if she is being abused by her husband, and she denies; It is more likely that she is hiding the truth, and that implies to mental illnesses in our society as well. The term “Consumed by Madness” originally came from the belief of being consumed or possessed by demons, which is why you find that mental health clinics are the last resort, after seeing many charlatans, unfortunately.”
Dr. Maha continued: “All of us, with no exceptions, need psychological and psychosocial support sessions. Having a counsellor at school is essential, in addition to courses and training programs on life skills for young people, such as anger management, coping with pressure, and time management as well. All of which contribute to building resilience, and changing the mindset, which, in my opinion, is the key to resolve several psychological problems. However, do we all need psychiatric medications? The answer is no. Only the psychiatrist and the specialist determine whether an individual needs to be medicated. Generally speaking, whoever turns to a psychiatrist for medication also needs therapy sessions, but whoever seeks therapy first might not need to be medicated.”
What perplexed me the most is that people perceive admitting the problem as shameful, whereas it is normal to deny it to the point it inflicts harm on everyone.
My friend says: “I used to think that self-flagellation is the only way to deal with any negative act from my side; I looked at it as a moment of epiphany and realization that I had made a mistake. I spent hours crying, feeling guilty, and overthinking. Yet, I would act the same again, and the cycle would continue! Through therapy, I was able to explore new approaches to resolving my issues, and I understood that self-flagellation itself was a factor to repeat the negative behaviors instead of putting an end to them.”
In a report published on Petra website, specialists say the 60% of those struggling with mental and psychological illnesses do not seek professional help fearing the stigma1. Which means that we, as a society, bear the various consequences, such as lack of trust and communication, poor productivity, families disfunctions, suicide, and crimes. All that to avoid being labelled as “Consumed by Madness”.
Are some people more susceptible to mental illness than others?
During our conversation, Dr. Maha categorized mental illnesses into three groups:
- First, mental disorders, such as Schizophrenia. In which the patient is unaware of his illness and denies it. Therefore, during treatment, we talk to his family or caregivers and discuss the types, dates, and doses of medications with them, in effort to maintain continuity in treatment.
- Secondly, psychological disorders, such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In which the patient can become aware of his illness and address his problem.
- Third, mood disorders, such as depression. In most cases, it is related to the chemical composition of the brain. The person who is most able to recognize this type of disorder is the patient himself because he suffers every day, and he seeks a solution.
Dr. Maha believes that cases of depression are the most prevalent in Jordan, whether among those who see psychologists or others on medication. According to statistics done by the National Center for Psychiatry affiliated with the Ministry of Health, 15% of Jordanians struggle with depression, while 12% struggle with anxiety2.
In my opinion, the tough economic and social conditions, such as the high rate of unemployment among youth and the heavy use of social media, contributed to having these issues in our society.
However, are we all affected to the same degree by the surrounding circumstances?
Dr. Darwish says: “There are two factors that trigger mental disorders: Genetic factor; Genes.
The environmental factor; Difficult circumstances and traumas.
The genetic factor generates what is known as psychological susceptibility, which indicates a person’s capacity to mental illnesses being triggered by certain events. This susceptibility can be aroused by the surrounding environment of the person who inherited the genetic factor of mental illness, or it weakens and fades thanks to the supportive and positive environment.
However, a significant percentage of mental illnesses are linked to genetic factors, which should not be overlooked. Nowadays, we do not only need a patient’s case file in a government or private clinic, but rather a genetic map that shows the entire familial disorder profile, in order to contribute to alleviating and adapting to these illnesses.”
This made me reach a particularly important topic…
Does the Jordanian health sector follow international standards in psychotherapy?
Even though mental health services are free in Jordan, the number of patients exceeds the capacity of the centers and hospitals, both in the number of beds and the doctors’ and staff’s capability to efficiently handle the cases.
“Efforts put in this field cannot be denied and should not be underestimated, however, we still need more collaboration and cooperation, as these efforts are scattered and unsystematic. There is a gap in the psychiatrists-to-patients ratio, which may expose the former to psychological burnout, as each doctor deals with about forty cases a day. We can also find this gap in the number, capacity and spread of therapy centers to the number of patients,” Dr. Maha explained.
Last year, about two hundred thousand patients visited psychiatric clinics, whereas the number of psychiatrists registered in the Jordan Association of Psychiatrists was 135.3
“Most of the doctors are non-residents, meaning they take frequent shifts. This suffices the purpose for now, in my opinion, especially for prescribing meds, needles, and such. However, it is not the ideal practice, as it may affect the patient’s treatment journey to see a different doctor each time,” Dr. Maha added.
As for the number of mental health centers in Jordan, we have 52 psychiatric clinics affiliated with the Ministry of Health, spread throughout the Kingdom, and 55 in the private sector, most of which are based in Amman4. I quote from the doctor the names of some of these departments and centers:
- – Psychiatric department in Zarqa Hospital
- – Psychiatric Department at the University of Jordan Hospital
- – Al-Fuhais Hospital
- – Karama Center in Mekableen
- – Al-Safsaf Center
- – Military Medical Services
- – And in the private sector: Motmaena Medical Center and AlRashid Hospital Center
Dr. Maha also pointed that we lack diversity in the types of treatment, as it should not be limited to medications, but it should include a comprehensive therapy plan consisting of vocational and recreational treatment, as well as psychological support for families dealing with mental illnesses.
“In some cases, families should look into risk factors they might encounter with the patient and be aware of them, such as threatening with a weapon, verbal threats, or an outright attempt to harm. On one occasion I advised the mother of a schizophrenic patient to contact family protection directly if threatened by her son.”
Our Step is one of the associations that focus on supporting mentally ill patients by providing recreational programs, job opportunities, and networking. According to Dr. Maha, this local association defends the rights of patients, and seeks to provide an inclusive community far from abuse, discrimination, and stigma.
Mental health awareness… A necessity for everyone
At least 450 million to one billion people struggle with some kind of mental disorder, according to the World Health Organization5. Imagine that none of them would go to a specialist, leaving themselves with accumulations of symptoms, instability, and internal psychological agitation. What will happen to the world?
While we need government supervision, systematic plans, and greater cooperation between all responsible parties, individual awareness remains something that we can control and direct properly:
- – Changing the language; Stop using terms like “psycho”, “crazy”, or “sick”.
- – Imagine ourselves in their shoes; Being empathetic and trying to help not pressure them.
- – Sharing useful information.
- – Refer each other to specialists and doctors; Mobile applications and online sessions facilitate this point, especially with them being affordable and accessible.
- – Participating in support campaigns directed toward rehabilitation and development.
- – Responding to everyone who tries to belittle people who struggle with mental disorders, for example, TV series that depict them in a humorous, misleading, or inappropriate way.
We may perceive our psychological problems as simple; They might be. Yet, if there is a solution, why not seek it? Assume you have toothache; will you ignore it? Let us stop denying our mental disorders, and instead of being ashamed, let us seek help.
I conclude with the words of my friend: “The journey of self-healing is the most significant and eye-opening experience of my life. Painful, for sure, but also worthy.”
Image: laith Habash with Dr. Maha Darwish – Trainer, teacher, and consultant in mental health
This blog reflects laith Habash’s opinions after an interview with Dr. Maha Drawish, an activist in mental health and psychosocial support, as a part of the “Generation 01” program conducted by Generations for Peace, with the support of the US Embassy in Jordan.