Sheikha Majda Al Sabah launches Houna, a platform to help people navigate their mental health in Kuwait and beyond.
“Over the last years, I have been openly speaking about the challenges I encountered when I went through my personal mental health journey and the depression that I faced. Through the ASAP initiative – a non-profit social program dedicated to promoting mental health awareness – I have tried to be a voice of change and an advocate for destigmatizing mental wellbeing.
In the region, the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns and physical distancing have led to social isolation, loss of income, loneliness, and inactivity. Mental health issues are proliferating at an exponential rate. Research and analysis was conducted to chart the growth in mental health service seekers in the GCC. This was based on data from the UK National Health Services, IESO Digital Health, and the World Health Organization. Using the UK data as a benchmark and the expected rates of growth of the GCC population, it is estimated that people seeking mental health services in the GCC will have reached a minimum of 8% of the population in 2021, to further increase to 12% by 2024. These remain conservative estimates as multiple sources point to a more aggressive outlook. Nonetheless, the numbers shed light on the urgent need for mental health support and services in the GCC.
With the expected surge in the numbers of people seeking mental health services, the continuous stigma associated with mental health, and the rapid acceleration in digital transformation, digital platforms and apps will be the future for those seeking mental health services or support. However, over the last two years, I felt that raising awareness, destigmatizing mental health, and encouraging people to overcome their fears were not enough. I felt the need to go beyond, to help people achieve holistic wellbeing by advocating for mental and physical health and creating a platform that can directly support those that are suffering from mental health challenges.
I have always believed that success should not be measured by monetary terms but by positive contributions to mankind. During the pandemic, it became clear that no one was immune to changes of mood, obsessions, fears, or mental health issues. I wanted to ensure that people in our region have access to information, support, and resources relating to mental health. I set up Houna to be the oasis of knowledge, support, and engagement, and a haven of information for people dealing with mental health matters and challenges. The purpose is to provoke thinking based on the information presented through the portal and given by professionals, to have support groups or events for people to share personal experiences, to engage those that would shy away from asking questions on mental health, to show the importance of seeking help and treatment, and hopefully to incite students to pursue a degree in the field. Finally, we also want to demonstrate that wellbeing is a sustainable drive for high performance.
Houna is a non-profit project intended to help people through their journey of mental health and holistic wellbeing. It is an aggregator of information and a connecting platform for those seeking mental health services, support, and advice. It is available in Arabic and English, so that anyone in the region can have access to information and consists of a digital portal that has an information bank providing all information related to mental health disorders, treatments, and symptoms. It also has a directory of professional therapists with the aim to bring all the mental professionals in the region under our platform, giving them the opportunity to showcase their experience and areas of expertise, at no cost to them, and providing our audience with all the necessary information that allows them to connect to therapists that are most relevant to them and their needs. The platform also has lists of wellbeing centers, podcasts, articles, and webinars to keep people abreast of the latest information in the field of mental health, as well as physical and virtual events. We will also have support groups to connect people that face similar challenges in their families. The platform is accessible to people of all age groups, nationalities, or socioeconomic background in the Middle East. Users can access the generic information bank, the volunteers and therapists, and the open webinars and podcasts.
Family members of all ages and backgrounds should have the courage and transparency to face any mental health issue, openly talk about it, and reach out for help. It is important that we deal with mental health matters like we deal with physical ones and accept the need for the right therapy or treatment. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed! On the contrary, we should embrace and accept. Today, we do not have enough therapists in the Middle East who can deal with the ever-increasing number of needs. Mental health is still not a priority in terms of government plans. It is time that we realize that holistic health is the cornerstone of a healthy and happy society and will lead to a better quality of life, more productivity, and less crime and aggression. It is important that awareness takes priority, that wellbeing programs are promoted, and that students are encouraged to pursue education in this field, and that support centers are set up to help people achieve their holistic wellbeing.
We started with a five-day virtual conference with 10 sessions. The aim was to present the information in a way that is accessible to everyone. The sessions were led by professionals in the field, with the participation of influencers who came to talk about their journeys in mental health. We have a small and dynamic team that is purpose-driven and has worked hard to ensure the success of this initiative. The team is composed of mental health marketing, events, and social media specialists. We are also supported by tech, media, and events agencies. We are already planning follow-up events and support groups. We are also liaising with many professionals in and outside the region to see how we can collaborate and support our followers. Houna will target people having mental health issues; those going through a temporary hard time in their lives and need support; those seeking help and advice for a family member; or people simply seeking to improve their lives.”
As told to Caterina Minthe
Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia