By Ahmad Jabr

MP Bader Al-Humaidi announced last week that he would propose legislation that calls on authorities to deport all expats receiving treatment at the psychiatric hospital in Kuwait. He said that he was informed by the health ministry that as many as 37,000 expats are receiving treatment at the psychiatric hospital at an alleged “huge financial cost.”

The lawmaker’s comments caused an uproar on social media, sparking wide criticism, especially from doctors and specialists in the field. Such a proposal coming from a legislator sheds light on a severe lack of awareness about mental health problems in the Kuwaiti and Arab societies.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” WHO identifies multiple social, psychological and biological factors that determine the level of mental health of a person at any point of time, including “violence and persistent socioeconomic pressures.”

Mental health awareness has become a topic of great importance in various places around the world in recent years. Countries have taken significant steps to remove the stigma that once surrounded mental health, which prevented people who could potentially be suffering from mental illnesses from seeking help.

Just like modern medicine provides ways to diagnose and treat biological diseases effectively, mental illnesses can also be properly diagnosed and treated so that the patient can live normally and carry out their duties like any healthy individual. And while biological diseases can become worse if left untreated, mental illnesses can also get worse if not diagnosed early and treated properly.

A similar level of awareness is yet to be reached in Kuwait, however. Meanwhile, the current pandemic has only made matters worse as it has left many people severely stressed and struggling under mental distress for long periods of times. In fact, there have been several cases of suicide reported in Kuwait during the past year, which investigators have attributed to severe distress as a result of lockdown and other COVID-19 repercussions.

This situation prompted the Kuwait Psychological Association (KPA) to launch hotlines, where different doctors provided consultations through the phone for people suffering from the psychological impacts of the coronavirus.

But the lawmaker’s recent comments run counter to these efforts that were meant to mitigate the psychological impact of the pandemic and any other crisis that could arise in the future. Instead of opening more doors for people who could be in desperate need for help, such proposals serve as yet another deterrent to those who suffer in a society that still struggles to shake off the stigma surrounding mental health.

Calls to deport patients are similar to demanding punishment for patients suffering from a disease they have no power over. Any person with the basic understanding of mental health would never place patients in the same category as dangerous criminals. MP Humaidi explained that among the motives behind his proposal was to “protect society” from what he described as “a threat to public safety and security, including that of citizens and residents alike.” But the fact is that making people who suffer from mental health issues too afraid to seek help is the real danger.

a.jabr@kuwattimes.net