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Breaking the Stigma: Encouraging Mental Health Conversations 

Encouraging Mental Health Conversations

Mental health is a critical area of overall well-being, yet it is often surrounded by stigma and silence. Conversations about mental health can be uncomfortable due to societal misconceptions, fear, and lack of understanding. However, breaking the stigma is an important aspect to create a supportive and inclusive environment for those experiencing mental health challenges. In this article, we will explore the impact of stigma on individuals, the importance of encouraging mental health conversations, and strategies to foster open dialogue.

  1. The Impact of Stigma on Mental Health
    Stigma surrounding mental health is a pervasive issue that has far-reaching consequences for individuals, communities, and society as a whole. It creates barriers to seeking help, perpetuates stereotypes, and contributes to the overall misunderstanding and marginalization of those with mental health conditions. Understanding the impact of stigma is crucial in recognizing the urgency of breaking down these barriers and fostering open conversations about mental health. Let’s start by understanding the meaning of stigma and the common stereotypes associated with mental health.
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Author

Tina Balachandran

Clinical Director & Clinical Psychologist

Tina is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 18 years of experience across clinical, aviation, and organisational settings. As a Certified Complex Trauma Professional, she uses an integrative strength-based approach to work with adults dealing with trauma and consults with organisations following critical incidents. She also works with couples, helping them learn how to replace negative conflict patterns with positive interactions, repair past hurts, and begin creating a shared meaning and purpose in their relationship.

Dr. Iram Kassis

Dr. Iram Kassis
Consultant Psychiatrist

Sadia Sultan

Sadia Sultan
Clinical Psychologist
    1. Defining Stigma

      Stigma refers to the negative beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes that are associated with a particular characteristic or condition, in this case, mental health. It can manifest in various ways, including public perception, media portrayal, and personal interactions. Stigma creates a climate of shame, secrecy, and discrimination that prevents individuals from seeking the help and support they need.

      Common misconceptions surrounding mental health include the belief that mental illnesses are a sign of weakness, that individuals with mental health conditions are dangerous or unpredictable, or that they should be able to “snap out” of their condition through willpower alone. Such misunderstandings contribute to the perpetuation of stigma and prevent open conversations about mental health.

    1. The Consequences of Stigma

      The impact of stigma on individuals experiencing mental health challenges is profound. Stigma often leads to self-stigmatization, where individuals internalize negative beliefs about themselves, resulting in feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. This self-stigma can be a significant barrier to seeking help, as individuals may fear judgment or rejection from others. I’ve had clients mention that it took them over a year from recognizing that they needed help to actually taking that first step and reaching out.

      Moreover, stigma creates a culture of silence around mental health, making it difficult for individuals to talk openly about their experiences. This silence prevents the sharing of stories, knowledge, and support, which are essential for promoting understanding and acceptance. Instead, individuals may choose to suffer in silence, leading to a deterioration of their mental health.

    1. In Qatar, the Awareness and Attitudes Measure 2020, as part of the Qatar Mental Health Strategy reported that around 54% of people in Qatar do not talk about mental health and mental illness.

      Watch this video, that the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) created inviting members of the public to a social experiment. This video beautifully captures the hidden prejudices and challenges current mental health stereotypes.

    1. Examples of Stigmatized Mental Health Conditions

      Various mental health conditions face stigmatization, exacerbating the challenges individuals already face. Depression and anxiety disorders, for instance, are often downplayed or dismissed as mere sadness or nervousness, respectively. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, characterized by fluctuations in mood and disordered thinking, are frequently misunderstood and associated with violence, despite the fact that individuals with mental health conditions are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators.

      Similarly, substance abuse and addiction are often stigmatized as moral failings or character flaws rather than recognized as complex health issues. This stigma prevents individuals from seeking the necessary support and treatment, perpetuating the cycle of addiction and compromising their overall well-being.

      It is crucial to challenge these stigmatized perceptions and educate ourselves and others about the reality of mental health conditions. By recognizing the impact of stigma and working to dismantle it, we can create an environment that fosters understanding, empathy, and support for those facing mental health challenges.

      In the next section, we will explore the importance of encouraging mental health conversations as a means to combat stigma and create a more inclusive and supportive society.


  1. The Importance of Mental Health Conversations

Man talking to his friends

  1. Open and honest conversations about mental health play an important role in breaking down stigma, promoting understanding, and fostering supportive environments. By encouraging mental health conversations, we can create a space where individuals feel safe and empowered to seek help, share their experiences, and find support. Let’s explore the importance of these conversations in more detail.

    1. Encouraging Help-Seeking Behavior

      One of the significant benefits of mental health conversations is their potential to encourage help-seeking behavior. When mental health is openly discussed and normalized, individuals are more likely to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions in themselves or others. This awareness can prompt early intervention and access to appropriate support and treatment.

      Conversations around mental health helps create a space to reassure individuals that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but rather an act of courage and self-care. When individuals feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns, they are more likely to reach out for professional help and support from friends, family, or mental health resources.

    1. Building Supportive Communities

      Open dialogue about mental health helps build supportive communities where individuals facing mental health challenges can find understanding, empathy, and validation. When people share their experiences, others who have gone through similar struggles can relate and provide support, creating a sense of belonging and connection.

      By fostering mental health conversations, we break down the isolation and stigma that often accompany mental health conditions. Supportive communities can help individuals realize they are not alone in their experiences, and they can share coping strategies, resources, and stories of resilience and recovery.

    2. Breaking the Cycle of Silence

      Stigma thrives in silence and secrecy. Mental health conversations disrupt this cycle of silence by challenging societal norms and cultural attitudes surrounding mental health. When individuals openly discuss their mental health, they contribute to the normalization of these conversations, encouraging others to speak up and share their stories without fear of judgment or discrimination.

      By breaking the cycle of silence, we create an environment where individuals can express their thoughts, emotions, and challenges freely. This freedom fosters understanding, compassion, and acceptance, leading to a more inclusive and supportive society.

      In collaboration with Roots Salon, our team at Flourishing Minds Clinic run a monthly “Talk to Me” segment at Caramel Lobby Lounge Café, City Center Rotana Doha. The shared vision behind this initiative is to encourage conversations about mental health. The response that we have had so far is amazing and we are touched by the openness of the community that attends to share their personal struggles and stories of recovery.

      Engaging in mental health conversations also provides an opportunity to educate others about the realities of mental health conditions, dispelling myths and misconceptions. It promotes empathy and helps to replace judgment with understanding, ultimately contributing to a more compassionate and empathetic society.

      In conclusion, mental health conversations are of paramount importance in combating stigma, promoting understanding, and fostering supportive environments. By encouraging these conversations, we create spaces where individuals feel empowered to seek help, share their experiences, and find support. Let us embrace the power of dialogue and work together to break down barriers and create a society that values and supports mental well-being.

  1. Strategies to Foster Mental Health Conversations

     

    Fostering mental health conversations requires intentional efforts to create safe and supportive environments where individuals feel comfortable discussing their mental well-being. By implementing various strategies, we can break down barriers, combat stigma, and encourage open dialogue. Here are some effective strategies to foster mental health conversations:

    1. Education and Awareness

      Promoting mental health literacy is a crucial step in fostering conversations about mental health. Education and awareness campaigns can provide accurate information about different mental health conditions, their prevalence, and available resources for support and treatment. These initiatives can help dispel myths and misconceptions, challenging stigmatizing beliefs.

      By collaborating with schools, workplaces, and community groups, we organize workshops, seminars, and awareness events to increase knowledge and understanding of mental health. Providing access to educational resources and online platforms can also empower individuals to learn more about mental health at their own pace and we are working closely with organizations to create bespoke resources. If you are a school or organization looking out for a mental health workshop, send an email to know more about the costs involved and book a psycho-educational session.

    2. Encouraging Active Listening and Empathy

      Creating a safe space for mental health conversations involves actively listening and demonstrating empathy towards individuals sharing their experiences. When someone opens up about their mental health, it is important to offer non-judgmental support and validation. Practicing active listening skills, such as maintaining eye contact, asking open-ended questions, and reflecting back what was shared, can foster a sense of trust and openness.

      Empathy plays a crucial role in understanding and connecting with others. By putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we can better comprehend their struggles and emotions. Encouraging empathy within conversations allows for deeper understanding and compassion towards individuals facing mental health challenges. We host mental health awareness talks at your location and encourage you to get trained in having conversations with those dealing with mental health challenges. To know more about our trainings, send us an email.

    3. Sharing Personal Stories

      Sharing personal stories of lived experiences can be a powerful tool in breaking down stigma and encouraging mental health conversations. When individuals bravely share their journeys, it helps others realize they are not alone in their struggles. Personal narratives foster connection, validation, and a sense of solidarity. Stories can inspire others to open up and engage in conversations about their mental health. It is important to create a safe and supportive environment to ensure that individuals feel comfortable sharing their stories without fear of judgment or criticism. If you have a story that you would like to share with us, we would be happy to support you. Drop us an email. We value your privacy and all stories published would be based on your comfort and confidentially would be maintained.

    1. Training and Education for Professionals

      Training and education for professionals in various fields can greatly contribute to fostering mental health conversations. Healthcare providers, educators, and employers would benefit from training on mental health awareness, communication skills, and strategies to support individuals with mental health conditions.

      Healthcare providers can receive training on patient-centered care, empathetic communication, and the recognition of mental health warning signs. Educators can be equipped with tools to create supportive classroom environments and recognize signs of distress in students. Employers can implement mental health policies, provide employee training, and create supportive workplace environments that encourage conversations and support for mental well-being. We offer consultations and support to healthcare providers, school personnel, human resource personnel, workplace health and safety professionals, and others in need of mental health training and education. To know more about our trainings, send us an email.

      By equipping professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills, we create a network of supportive individuals who can guide and encourage mental health conversations in their respective settings.

      In conclusion, fostering mental health conversations requires a multi-faceted approach. Strategies such as education and awareness, active listening and empathy, sharing personal stories, and providing training for professionals all contribute to creating a culture that encourages open dialogue about mental health. By implementing these strategies, we aim to break down stigma, support individuals in their mental health journeys, and foster a more inclusive and compassionate society.

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Author

Tina Balachandran

Clinical Director & Clinical Psychologist

Tina is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 18 years of experience across clinical, aviation, and organisational settings. As a Certified Complex Trauma Professional, she uses an integrative strength-based approach to work with adults dealing with trauma and consults with organisations following critical incidents. She also works with couples, helping them learn how to replace negative conflict patterns with positive interactions, repair past hurts, and begin creating a shared meaning and purpose in their relationship.

Dr. Iram Kassis

Dr. Iram Kassis
Consultant Psychiatrist

Sadia Sultan

Sadia Sultan
Clinical Psychologist

Bhavna Sharma Naik

Bhavna Sharma NaikBhavna is an embodiment of expression in Hindi, and what better way to convey her feelings than through the art of dance and movement. From the tender age of 5, she has dedicated her life to learning, practicing, and performing various dance forms from around the world. Dance has been her refuge, helping her navigate through pain, hurt, and worries, ultimately leading her to the path of sharing this wisdom through rhythm and movement therapy. With over 22 years of teaching experience, Bhavna has transformed numerous students, spanning kids, adults, and children with autism, using movement as a medium for both enjoyment and meditation. She firmly believes that movement serves as a non-verbal language that connects body, mind, and soul, enabling individuals to express their inner selves. As a Visharad in Indian classical dance and holding certifications in yoga, Pilates, fitness, and a diploma in special needs education, Bhavna is well-equipped to guide others on their transformative journey through dance and movement.

Latifa Al Kuwari

With a passion for museums and a background in art history, Latifa Al-Kuwari serves as Head of Academic & Outreach at 321 Qatar Olympic & Sports Museum and a mother of three. With her 5 years experience in the Learning & Outreach Department she creates and delivers special programs tailored for diverse audiences. Her expertise lies in fostering museum engagement & enriching educational experiences for museum visitors.
Mo Eraky

Mohamed Eraky

Coach Mo Eraky is a dedicated father of two girls, aged 9 and 6, making him an advocate for women’s empowerment by default. With an impressive 20-year career in aviation, he boasts 9 years of experience in commercial, sales, and events, as well as 11 years in talent management. Coach Mo is the founder of the Baby Steps Marathon in Strava, coaches the Wireless Warriors Dragon Boat team, and proudly serves as an Asics Frontrunner Ambassador. He’s a true triathlon and sports enthusiast, holding certifications as an ICF-PCC coach, CPLP-ATD Performance Consultant, NLP Practitioner, DiSC Practitioner, and an expert in emotional intelligence and situational leadership. As an Aviation Management Professional (AvMP) and cancer survivor, Coach Mo’s resilience shines through, having lived in various countries, including Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bristol-UK for the past two decades. He embodies strength and passion in all aspects of life.

Sheldon Smith

Sheldon Smith

Founding Principal, Northview International School

Experienced Principal with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He has been working away from Canada for the past 24 years, covering Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Qatar. In Qatar, he previously worked for Al Khor International School (8 years) and Al Jazeera Academy (4 years).

Anshu Jain

Anshu Jain

A versatile on-stage personality with over 13 years of experience in hosting 250+ events, spanning sports, corporate, and entertainment. A sought-after digital content creator known for creativity. A successful brand promoter, explorer, and fashion enthusiast. A seasoned voice-over artist with a track record of prestigious projects and a facilitator for talk shows.
Kirsten Hutchison

Kirsten Hutchison, MT-BC

Kirsten is a board-certified music therapist from the United States. She has practiced music therapy for children and adults for over 15 years, in the US and Qatar. She specializes in working with children and teens with developmental and behavioral disabilities and differences, and loves using music to support learning and growth. She has lived in Doha for 5 years. When she’s not doing music, she loves playing games with her family, crocheting, and exploring the beautiful world we live in.

Kamila Janik, MSC, BCBA

Kamila JanikIn her professional capacity as the Director at the Child Development Center (CDC) for Special Needs, Kamila’s role involves supervising the provision of multi-disciplinary therapy services for children with autism and related developmental disorders. Kamila strongly believes in the provision of trauma-informed, empathetic, and child- and parent-centered therapy, which includes approaches such as music therapy, play-based ABA therapy, speech therapy, feeding therapy and occupational therapy. Kamila is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who holds a Masters degree in Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, and is currently completing her doctorate in Education with a special focus on mental health and wellbeing of mothers of children with autism. At CDC, Kamila has incorporated approaches such as mindfulness and music therapy for reducing anxiety, stress, and enhancing emotional regulation and overall mental wellbeing among children and parents of children with autism disabilities and therapists.

Stefan Lindberg-Jones

Stefan Lindberg-Jones

Stefan Lindberg-Jones, a seasoned entrepreneur and host of “The Head Guy Podcast,” is a dedicated advocate for mental health. As the CEO and Owner of Ginger Camel LLC and Lindberg-Jones Ltd, his journey, marked by personal challenges including dyslexia, divorce, bankruptcy, and pandemic-related setbacks, has deepened his commitment to mental well-being. Stefan’s podcasting career began with “Your Onion Podcast” in 2016, running until 2022, and transitioned into “The Head Guy Podcast,” where he engages in insightful conversations exploring mental health, resilience, and success. He also founded “The Pancake Club,” a community fostering support and mentorship among entrepreneurs. Stefan’s inspiring journey underscores the importance of mental health in life and entrepreneurship, making him a beacon of hope and wisdom for others.
Arafa Alhammadi

Arafa Alhammadi

Offers specialized programs in holistic health, EQ life coaching, self-awareness, wellness, and fitness, personal and professional development and training as well as real-world applications, for those who are interested in self- or career development.
Najla Al Kuwari

Najla Al Kuwari

Mother to 4 boys and founder of young mothers Qatar, which is an educational initiative directed to new mothers. We discuss all matters relating to pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and newborn care on social media platforms.

I am also a member of national maternal mental health committee and an advocate for mental health awareness.

Menatalla Metwally Said ElBadway

Menatalla Metwally Said ElBadway

I am a fourth-year medical student with a minor in computer science, deeply passionate about mental health advocacy and patient rights. I bring a diverse range of experiences to the table, including serving as the President of the Qatar University Student Surgical Society, Founder and President of the Qatar University Student Surgical Society, and a current College Representative at Qatar University. I also have a background in social media marketing and event organization, having interned at QU Health and worked with the Qatar Interprofessional Education Student Association. My skills encompass Adobe Photoshop, marketing, video production, social media management, event planning, and more. I’m excited to contribute to the Flourishing Minds Festival and support the cause of mental health as a universal right.

Mahnaz Mousavi

Dr. Mahnaz Mousavi

Mahnaz Mousavi is the Director of Student Wellness & Counseling Center at Georgetown University in Qatar. Dr. Mousavi, is a licensed psychologist in the District of Columbia, U.S.A and is a BCIA Board Certified in General Biofeedback. She earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Akron in Ohio and her postdoctoral master’s degree in Clinical Psychopharmacology from the California School of Professional Psychology in California. Dr. Mousavi’s initial master’s degree in Clinical Psychology is earned from Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran. As an integrationist, some of her areas of interest include working with young adults, crisis intervention, childhood abuse, trauma, psychological assessment, mindfulness, and biofeedback, with a focus on multicultural and cross-cultural counseling and counseling university students. Her academic contributions include a book in Iran on Childhood Abuse in Iran, articles in peer-reviewed journals, and regular presentations at conferences and meetings.

Noura Al-Thawadi

NouraA pioneer and coach, she is the founder of the be.fit180o team and the QAthletics Academy. She is the first Qatari coach targeting age groups from 4 to 14 years old for running and jumping since 2019. She holds a diploma in sports club and sports institution management and is a Level 3 running and fitness coach.

Iain Tulley

Iain TulleyIain Tulley spent 35 years in UK Healthcare, 15 years as Chief Executive.

Prior to joining HMC, he was Chief Executive of Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, one of the largest mental health Trusts in England. He was previously Chief Executive of Devon Partnership NHS Trust and East Devon Primary Care Trust. Tulley has held a number of senior healthcare management posts; he also worked at the Department of Health and was involved in developing a National Service Framework for Mental Health in the UK. He originally trained as a nurse in Scotland before retraining and becoming a manager. During his time as Chief Executive, he has promoted clinical leadership, enabling clinicians to lead and develop services for the benefit of patients. He describes his only priority as improving the quality of the patient experience.

He believes that the development of Mental Health Services in Qatar will further enhance the world ranking of our health system.

Moses Amonje

Moses AmonjeMoses is a Physical Literacy and Physical Activity Champion, with vast experience, of over 18 years in youth empowerment, community development, project planning, project implementation, networking, resource mobilization, and working at different levels from grassroots, national, and international levels. He has extensive experience working with diverse groups of individuals in both local and global capacities.

As the Acting Head of Activation, at the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, Moses advocates for the promotion of physical activity and consumption of healthy diets from a tender age so as to prevent and manage the sharp rise in Non-communicable and Cardiovascular diseases including mental health among the Qatar Population.

Through the Activation Zone at the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, Moses supports the public in achieving their health and fitness goals by equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to take control of their health, and overall wellness, by introducing them to physical activity, and sports.

Amna AlMuhannadi

Amna AlMuhannadiAmna AlMuhannadi is a certified Ayurvedic lifestyle instructor and a psychological and social counselor with over a decade of experience in the field of health and wellness. She is recognized as an influencer in promoting healthy living and wellness tourism.

Amna provides workshops, consultations, and retreats, and she is a co-founder of ATLAAD, a natural beauty brand. Her approach involves blending alternative medicine and ancient healing practices with modern science to achieve holistic well-being.

Dr. Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari

Dr. Mohammed Jaham Al-KuwariDr. Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari boasts a remarkable career as both a General and bariatric Surgeon and a prominent figure in the world of sports administration.

Previously served at the esteemed Hamad Medical Corporation, Dr. Al-Kuwari has become a distinguished consultant in General and bariatric Surgery, currently practicing at The Masters Medical Center. His medical expertise and dedication to improving the well-being of his patients have earned him a reputation as a compassionate and skilled healthcare professional.

Beyond his medical endeavors, Dr. Al-Kuwari is a passionate cyclist and accomplished triathlete. His love for these sports led him to co-found the Qatar Cyclist Center, a hub for nurturing local cycling talent. In 2016, he received a resounding vote of confidence when he was elected President of the Qatar Cycling Federation, a role in which he excelled.

During his tenure, Dr. Al-Kuwari has been a tireless advocate for promoting cycling and triathlon sports in Qatar. His visionary leadership has seen the organization evolve, leading to the creation of a dedicated Triathlon unit within the Federation in 2017. As a result, the Federation has been rebranded as the Qatar Cycling and Triathlon Federation, reflecting his commitment to expanding the reach and appeal of these sports.

Dr. Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari’s multifaceted contributions, both in the medical field and the world of sports, make him an exceptional individual who continues to impact the lives of many in Qatar positively.

Suhaila A. H. Ghuloum,
FRCPsych, L.R.C.P& S.I., M.B., B.Ch., B.A.0

Dr. Suhaila GhuloumDr. Ghuloum is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation, Professor at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, and an Associate Professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, Qatar.

She has national and international involvements in mental health, including with the GCC, WHO, the Arab Board, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the World Psychiatric Association, and the World Federation for Mental Health. She was a key member in drafting the Qatar Mental Health Strategy and Law.

Dr. Ghuloum has several research projects and publications, in addition to presentations at regional and international conferences.

Joanna Rekik

Joanna RekikJoanna, a wife and mom of three boys, spent over a decade calling Qatar home. Transitioning from the corporate world, she recently embarked on a new journey, becoming a business owner specializing in digital marketing. Beyond her professional pursuits, Joanna is a passionate advocate for mental health, emphasizing the significance of work-life balance and prioritizing self-care for mothers, readily sharing her experiences through her blog, “Mama in Transit”.

Shefa Ali

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Dr. Nelli El-Ghazal

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Pierre Daniel

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Marketing professional, with an everlasting passion for sport and physical activity. Through his journey, he became an ambassador for an active and healthy lifestyle. In 2018, Pierre ran 477km around Qatar in seven days, unassisted, establishing the Fastest Known Time for the circumnavigation of the country and setting a Guinness World Record at the time for the fastest north to south crossing of the country.

Through his personal development as an endurance athlete, Pierre developed a holistic approach in preparation for challenges, including physical and mental mindfulness, goal settings condition, preparedness, and more. Pierre is also a certified endurance coach, helping athletes develop their potential and reach their goals

Abubaker Ali

Abubaker AliFormer Qatar athletic and Coach.

Dr Ameera

Dr. Ameera Al-Kharaz

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She has a special interest in life and wellness coaching, helping individuals reach their full potential and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Dr. Ameera finds fulfillment in her clinical work, collaborating with patients, and her role as a quality advocate, facilitating programs and quality improvement projects within the Mental Health Service and across HMC.