Mental and Psychological Impairments: How do they fall through the cracks of Arab social protection systems?

The discussion was held in both Arabic and English, with simultaneous interpretation to both languages and in sign language.

Mental and psychological health are often overlooked when both devising and implementing development and humanitarian policies in the Arab region. The region has had a long history of lack of awareness about the importance of mental and psychological health for people’s well-being and societies’ prosperity. Instead, mental and psychological impairments have for long been dealt with as taboos, which has led to the stigmatization of people with such difficulties as well as their exclusion from public spaces, quality education, economic activity, and even healthcare.

As education systems evolved and global efforts became more influential, and following the COVID-19 pandemic that was accompanied by an upsurge in mental and psychological illnesses, slight improvements were recently seen on the level of public awareness about  these illnesses and tolerance for the ill. However, this progress was not reflected in public policies that ensure the social and economic inclusion and protection of the respective patients.

While people with mental or psychological impairments are more prone to being unemployed and losing their livelihoods, they do not have access to decent and affordable healthcare, nor do they have access to adequate social security guarantees in the Arab region, whose social protection systems are - at any rate - fragmented, ineffective, and frail. This is despite the fact that mental and psychological impairments are strongly correlated with each other, can cause  severe difficulties and even disability, and can intersect with many other forms of social vulnerability, including with physical disabilities, with which they are also highly correlated. The region is still rather far behind in including such impairments and sometimes disabilities into social policy and social services, and has yet to define the terms and concepts around the issue at hand.

This webinar was co-hosted by the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) and the Arab Forum for the Rights of People with Disabilities (AFRPD), within the framework of ARI’s social protection program and the Arab Region Hub for Social Protection that it hosts and coordinates. The aim of the webinar was to launch a public discussion on a major but rarely addressed problem and to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the status quo of mental and psychological health in the Arab region? How might it have regressed with the COVID-19 pandemic and other overlapping, compounding, or competing crises?
  2. How do health and social protection systems in the region fail to cover and incubate people with mental and psychological impairments or disabilities?
  3. What are the political and politico-economic reasons behind the exclusion and marginalization of people with such impairments or disabilities?  
  4. What are these people’s specific needs? Who is stepping in to cater to them in the absence of serious State efforts, and how?
  5. What feasible solutions are there to achieve universal health and social protection coverage for the people of concern?