On the occasion of International Women’s Day, this year held under the theme ‘Choose to Challenge’, She is Arab, the first platform dedicated to increasing the representation of Arab women in business leadership and at speaking events, held a webinar on the importance of mental health. The panel discussion featured prominent speakers from the Arab region.

Rania Atalla, Mental Health Specialist and Psychotherapist, moderated the session, held under this year’s IWD theme ‘Choose to Challenge’. Panelists included Her Highness Sheikha Intisar AlSabah, Founder of Intisar Foundation from Kuwait, Sayyida Basma Al Said, Mental Health Specialist and Founder of Whispers of Serenity Clinic from Oman, and Dr Mariam Ketait, Founder of Ebb & Flow from the UAE.

The 90-minute conversation explored the diversity of the Middle East and the issues of relevance to mental health and overall wellbeing in the region. The participants called for focused and targeted efforts in responding to specific needs facing Arab men and women living through these realities.

Anxiety, depression, and myriad other conditions have been on the rise in the Middle East. However, the culture surrounding mental health in the region is full of misconceptions, prejudice, and judgement stemming from religion, tradition, and family, among others. The talk highlighted the importance of mainstreaming the mental health discourse in the Arab world.

During the webinar, Her Highness Sheikha Intisar AlSabah said: “We have gathered great evidence that women keeping what they think are great secrets and not sharing them with anyone else, even if to find solutions, is one of the biggest causes of poor mental health, and that sharing our problems with others and by sharing them, leads to a better life.”

For her part, Her Highness Sayyida Basma Al Said said: “Women need to appreciate where they are and what they’ve done and not doubt themselves a lot as they do. In the end, once a woman’s mental health is well, then the whole family’s mental health becomes well and the society’s mental health becomes better.”

Dr. Mariam Ketait said: “It is very important to remind ourselves that life continues to ebb and flow, and that we are able to restore the light of hope and create the future we seek.”
Rania Atallah, the session moderator, added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a global mental health tsunami, the ramifications of which we are yet to fully comprehend, and women are affected disproportionately.

She continued: “This challenging situation also presents an opportunity to place mental health higher on the priority list.” Explaining the purpose of the webinar, Samar Alshorafa, Founding CEO of She is Arab, said: “The notion of mental health still remains a stigma in the Arab world, even though it shouldn’t. We hope that through our conversations, we can bring to light the importance of addressing such issues without fear or judgement.”
She added: “This was the first digital session in a series of upcoming ones, and we hope that today’s discussion has helped encourage women to give priority to their mental health.”

Vishnu Kalra, Managing Director of The Janssen Pharmaceuticals Companies of Johnson & Johnson, provided opening remarks at the webinar: “Today, the world is facing a mental health crisis that has impacted everyone, especially women, yet it has showed us that women are an integral part of the solution. We at Johnson & Johnson support She is Arab and other initiatives that showcase the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion within the region and to celebrate International Women’s Day by raising awareness on the importance of wellbeing and mental health.”

She is Arab has built itself into a platform with a powerful vision to increase Arab women’s representation in the global economy by building a support network for them and providing a range of customized services and opportunities dedicated to their growth and development which in turn supports the region’s path towards women’s economic empowerment.

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