Growing up, one of my favorite TV shows focused on the life of a psychiatrist and his family. I credit this TV show for making me understand the human side of psychiatrists and how compassionate they are towards their patients. Mental illness remains a highly stigmatized subject matter in Kuwait as well as many other countries. Perhaps if we understood the individuals behind this profession better, it will help us understand how important it is to discuss mental health and that we are all connected through our emotions and experiences. And on this note, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of Kuwait’s most dedicated psychiatrists, Dr. Bader Khraibut.
“I spent most of my childhood moving all over the world due to my father’s work. I have lived in America, Morocco, UK, Canada, Ireland, Dubai and now settled in Kuwait. Living in so many countries, I was exposed to many different cultures and backgrounds.
My interest in psychiatry, I believe, stemmed early on from these experiences, I was always very interested in different types of people/cultures and how their minds work. During my undergraduate medical degree, I was exposed to all disciplines of medicine. Although rewarding, most branches of hospital medicine involve streamlined diagnostic tests and treatments. In psychiatry however, there are no standard procedures or protocols.
Each patient is unique and has their own stories to tell. Each patient has been influenced by their life experiences whether positive or negative, their culture and home life. Thus, treating these patients can be challenging but extremely rewarding. Therefore, I focused my postgraduate training towards the field of psychiatry because being able to make personalized treatment plans for these types of patients and seeing positive change is so rewarding.”
A childhood spent in transition from one environment to another can certainly create stress and tension. While these issues are fairly common to experience, what were Dr. Bader’s thoughts on the most pressing psychological issues in Kuwait?
“The most common disorders in Kuwait requiring treatment are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In Kuwait, the most pressing issue however, is the stigma of mental illness, which is preventing people from seeking appropriate treatment. Being identified by society as mentally ill is associated with shame, loss of reputation, dignity and may lead to negative discrimination. Stigma is considered a significant barrier to recovery as people are less likely to seek treatment, reduces quality of life, disrupts relationships and decreases ability to obtain employment. Mental health is just as important as physical health and society’s acceptance of mental health issues is vital.”
Due to this stigma, and as Dr. Bader rightfully pointed out, many individuals may be reluctant to seek the help they need. “Stress and anxiety are extremely common in this day and age. We are so caught up with balancing work and family life that it is difficult to take time for ourselves. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and it also improves mood. I recommend for people to exercise for 30 minutes, 5 times per week in an activity that they enjoy. It does not have to be limited to running on a treadmill but joining fitness classes can also be a great way to socialize. Also, mindfulness is an effective method for relieving anxiety. In this technological era, apps like Headspace are a great option that I recommend to patients. Low self-esteem is also an issue many people face, and it affects them in their everyday life. Taking an interest in developing a skill can be helpful to improving one’s overall sense of competency. Doing something out of your comfort zone is also a great way to challenge yourself and improve confidence; do one thing each day that you feel you wouldn’t normally do otherwise, such as meeting new people. Writing down positive attributes is also a great way to build your self-esteem. Sit down and reflect on your positive qualities, make a list and read that list every day, adding to it as you see fit. Focus on the positives!”
Dr. Bader’s emphasis on positivity and mindfulness is a scientifically proven method to lead a better, healthier life. While practicing mindfulness is an individual responsibility, I found myself contemplating the responsibility of the State as well as the medical community towards reducing the friction associated with mental health. Who can we hold accountable?
“The friction surrounding mental health needs to be addressed by both the State and the medical community. The stigma of mental health is a real problem in Kuwait, it is a taboo topic and mentally ill individuals are often excluded from the community. The government has a role in regulating mental health practices and has significant decision-making power over the current mental health system. The most pressing issue is the implementation of a Mental Health Act, which does not currently exist. This type of legislation is key in protecting the rights of patients with mental illness and preventing discrimination. The stigma relating to mental health is embedded deeply within cultural and religious beliefs. Symptoms of mental health conditions are considered the effects of Jinn, the ‘evil eye’ or a punishment. Instead of seeing a doctor, people live with the symptoms for years or visit spiritual healers. Stricter regulation on these practices is essential to prevent delayed treatment. It is also imperative that the medical experts work alongside the Kuwait government to understand the current deficits in patient care. They must work together to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by developing more public awareness campaigns and easier access to psychiatric services. Raising awareness, like having a mental health month initiative will improve awareness and acceptance of mental illness in the general society, which will help to improve people’s willingness to obtain psychiatric care. Another important topic that requires State intervention is the lack of child protection laws. Children have the right to be protected and respected. We regularly see cases of abuse, however there aren’t clear guidelines in how to deal with these in practice. Child abuse is a key predictor of mental health problems throughout life. Current research has shown that maltreatment of children can cause physical changes to the brain, particularly in the hippocampus. These changes have been associated with an increased risk of depression, addiction and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) later in life.”
Having practised psychiatry for several years, Dr. Bader shared with us an interesting case he witnessed. “Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects the way people think and behave and often lose touch with reality. One patient, suffering from schizophrenia, had been screaming every night for 10 years. The family took him to religious officials to see what could be done, he was told he was possessed. Eventually, his symptoms became so aggressive that he disrupted the neighbors and he was brought to the hospital by security services. With appropriate treatment he was able to improve his symptoms drastically, completely changing his quality of life.”
Upon learning about this, I was truly alarmed by the dire state of awareness in Kuwait. Has any significant progress been made over the past couple of years? Was there a shimmer of hope?
“The perception of mental illness has improved over the past few years. Easier access to mental health services has significantly decreased the stigma. Previously, psychiatric services were solely provided by the Kuwait Center for Mental Health which prevented many from seeking help. The establishment of satellite clinics in a primary care setting has increased access and is culturally more accepted, thus reducing the stigma. The use of awareness programs in schools, universities and the general media has improved the understanding and societal acceptance of mental illness. The more we discuss, educate and normalize mental illness, the better people will be at acknowledging their symptoms and seeking help.”
In closing, I wanted to learn about Dr. Bader’s aspirations as a psychiatrist. “I would like to see the successful implementation of increased psychiatry services in Kuwait at a primary care level because it provides easier access and reduces stigma. I aspire to work alongside government and policy makers to help establish a mental health act. The limited psychiatric services available in Kuwait is because no residency training programs currently exist for doctors. I would like to work with the State to re-establish a psychiatric residency program that will help train incoming junior doctors and increase the number of psychiatrists, improving access.”
To learn more about Dr. Bader Khraibut, visit @dr_baderkhraibut on Instagram
Nourah Al-Oseimi is a 26-year-old Kuwaiti who holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Nourah has worked in different places such as the Central Bank of Kuwait and the United Nations. She serves as a free-lance contributing writer to the Times Kuwait – Newsmagazine. Her column – Essentially Kuwaiti – will feature an in-depth look on exceptional young Kuwaitis and their efforts towards the realization of a New Kuwait.