Billions in investment needed to expand mental healthcare

03 July 2024 2 min. read
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There is an urgent need for more psychiatric beds to meet the increasing demand for mental health services in the Middle East, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. A new report from Knight Frank shows that to meet that demand, the health services sector needs an investment of around $4.3 billion.

With rapidly expanding populations, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia require significantly more inpatient beds for mental health patients. According to the Knight Frank report, the UAE needs over 3,000 additional beds and Saudi Arabia needs nearly 13,000 more.

Mental health issues are on the rise in most developed countries around the world. With the UAE and Saudi Arabia rapidly shifting from developing to developed economies, new technologies and modern ways of life could bring more mental health issues among their populations.

Billions in investment needed to expand mental healthcare

“Incidence rates of conditions such as anxiety and depression are higher in KSA and on par in the UAE when compared to the UK,” said Gireesh Kumar, associate partner at Knight Frank.

“However, in terms of infrastructure, KSA and UAE have a psychiatry bed density of 14.0 and 18.4 beds per 100,000 people, respectively, compared to 36.9 beds per 100,000 in the UK. This highlights the disparity in the availability of mental health services and facilities in the region.”

There is, incredibly, only one single dedicated mental health facility in the UAE. As for Saudi Arabia, there is also a severe lack of such facilities, which, according to Knight Frank, mostly only cater to Saudi nationals. With a large and growing expat community, that will clearly lead to problems, if it has not already.

The need for investments

In order to address this growing need in both these countries, major investments in mental health facilities and capabilities will need to be made. But in addition to that, a solution will certainly also require a shift in the mindset when it comes to mental health. It will ideally need to be seen not a stigma, but as a normal part of public health.

“Looking ahead, we need to make mental health services more accessible and affordable, streamline regulatory processes, and invest in strong infrastructure,” said Shehzad Jamal, partner at Knight Frank.

“This includes investing in digital technology for mental health, which has become more popular since Covid-19. It’s also crucial to fight the stigma around mental health so people can seek the help they need without fear or hesitation.”

With a significantly younger population than other regions, the Middle East will soon have to reckon with the effects of young people that have grown up glued to technology, a trend which has worried health experts for years.

A previous study found that a large percentage of Arab youth consider their social media use to be detrimental to their mental health.