Together for mental health: towards a sustainable and scalable model of mental health care in the United Arab Emirates

March 21, 2022

Middle East

mental health

March 21, 2022

Middle East
Clare Roche

Manager - Health Policy & Insights

Clare is a manager in the Health Policy and Insights practice at Economist Impact. Clare has over ten years of experience working in the healthcare industry in the Middle East. At Economist Impact, Clare is involved in project management, consultancy and custom research with a focus on the MENA region. Before joining Economist Impact, Clare worked with PwC’s Middle East Healthcare practice as a strategy and operations consultant and Enterprise Ireland, the trade and technology arm of the Irish Government, as an advisor to healthcare and life science companies. Clare holds a Bachelor in International Commerce from NUI Galway and is currently completing an MSc in Health Economics, Policy and Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).


Good mental health is integral to the functioning, wellbeing and performance of individuals, communities, society, and the economy. Yet, mental health remains one of the most neglected areas of public health. On average, mental health accounts for just 2% of overall health budgets. Access to quality mental health services remains a challenge globally, with barriers including awareness, availability, affordability, and stigma.

The covid-19 pandemic has triggered a greater focus on mental health globally. Bereavement, isolation, economic uncertainty, and fear are triggering mental health conditions and exacerbating existing ones. There is also increasing evidence that exposure to covid-19 can lead to neurological and mental health complications.

Globally it is estimated that one out of every four people will be impacted by poor mental health or mental illness at some point in their lives. In the UAE, neuropsychiatric disorders contribute an estimated 19.9% of the burden of disease. Seventy-five per cent of these psychological conditions are associated with depression and anxiety. The burden of mental illness in the UAE is exacerbated by risk factors associated with a young population and the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The responsibility for investment and action on mental health is not limited to the health sector. A well-coordinated and appropriately funded multisector approach, supported by strong governance and leadership, is key to providing an integrated and comprehensive model of mental health care delivery that comprises promotion, protection, prevention and treatment.

Mental health has emerged as a national priority in the UAE. Mental wellbeing is one of the key performance indicators and priority areas outlined in the UAE National Agenda. Mental health is already a key feature of national and local health strategies in the UAE. Plans that were in progress are being accelerated to enhance capacity building, infrastructure, and provision of mental health care.

Together for mental health: towards a sustainable and scalable model of mental health care in the United Arab Emirates is an Economist Impact report, supported by Janssen, Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, that explores the current status of mental health in the UAE, changing perceptions towards mental health, and how improved access to mental health care can be facilitated through the integration of care and the strengthening of multisector and intersectoral action and collaboration on mental health. The report identifies priorities that can support successful policy implementation and long-term action on mental health in the UAE, including: 

  • Aligning mental health strategy policy and plans with an integrated national approach among healthcare authorities and key stakeholders

  • Involving and supporting relevant agencies in mental health promotion and prevention

  • Expanding insurance coverage in combination with supporting access to low-threshold services to support those with mild-to-moderate mental health conditions

  • Incorporating mental health care into the skill set of all healthcare professionals to mitigate workforce shortages

  • Generating knowledge and building a solid evidence base for policy development and implementation

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