Voices from the Arab press: Mental health in Saudi Arabia

I am unsure how other news outlets in the kingdom will react to the suicide attempt of the young man in Mecca. The right thing to do is bring these issues into the fore and discuss them.

A BABY girl is fed as other girls dressed as Kumari are worshipped during rituals to celebrate the Hindu festival of Navratri, inside the Adyapeath temple on the outskirts of Kolkata, India, on April 14. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A BABY girl is fed as other girls dressed as Kumari are worshipped during rituals to celebrate the Hindu festival of Navratri, inside the Adyapeath temple on the outskirts of Kolkata, India, on April 14.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, April 11
Many of us saw the young man who threw himself from the Grand Mosque of Mecca in Riyadh in an attempt to commit suicide. God has allowed him to survive. But think of how many people in the Kingdom actually succeeded in carrying out these satanic ideas. More importantly, what role should society and the Saudi authorities play in helping those who are facing major psychological struggles and experiencing suicidal thoughts?
I do not know if there is a single institution that works to help those miserable people who want to take their own lives. In many Toronto train stations I’ve seen ads calling for sympathy: If you think about suicide or have such ideas, there is someone to listen to you. “Contact us immediately,” the ad reads. I have never witnessed similar advertisements in Saudi Arabia.
The incident of the young Saudi who threw himself from the height of the mosque must not be viewed in isolation. There are many more Saudi teenagers in similar situations, but their struggle is kept away from the public’s eye. We must openly discuss these issues. We should also acknowledge the fact that many of those with suicidal thoughts find refuge in fundamental religious ideology, and join jihadi groups that claim to provide their lives with meaning. Our countries must have associations and bodies that help those in need.
I am unsure how other news outlets in the kingdom will react to the suicide attempt of the young man in Mecca. I am sure many won’t even bother reporting about the incident. The right thing to do is bring these issues into the fore and discuss them, even though they are taboo. The reasons that lead to suicide are often avoidable and can be addressed and alleviated by health professionals. But this will never be possible unless we openly talk about mental health and its challenges to our country. – Abdullah bin Bakhit
Al-Arab, London, April 14
The fall of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in office for 30 years, is the culmination of popular demonstrations that have been unfolding in the country for nearly five months. This movement began with demands for basic necessities, such as protests against the increase in the price of bread, and ended with calls to overthrow Sudan’s 75-year-old autocrat. While pundits speak of this recent uprising as a relatively recent movement, it does, in fact, trace several years back.
Demonstrations against the Sudanese regime have been going on since then, but Bashir managed to eliminate them through repression. This year, however, Bashir found himself isolated after he exhausted all the methods he adopted in the past in order to stay in power. It is clear that the ousted president was unaware of what was happening on Sudanese soil. Bashir is ignorant on everything related to the Sudanese youth, who have different aspirations than those he and his generation had.
These young people are between the ages of 16 and 35 years. Bashir does not know that their number nears 25 million, which means they constitute a majority in Sudan, which has a population of 43 million. There is no connection between Bashir and the young people of his country, who are aware of what is going on in the world. Even outgoing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 82-year-old leader who ruled his country for 20 years, had a better understanding of what is happening in his country than Bashir did. Like their Algerian counterparts, the people of Sudan demand greater representation. Both peoples deserve much better leaders who are qualified to run these countries and promote greater development.
The funny thing is that Bashir, before his fall, was talking about the need for Sudan’s ministries to become more competent in what they do. He missed the fact that it was he who appointed ministers that lacked the basic qualifications necessary to promote a country like Sudan. Does it seriously take Bashir 30 years to discover this? One of the most important mistakes made by Bashir is to ignore the modern history of Sudan. In 1964, thousands of Sudanese people took to the streets to demand the resignation of Ibrahim Abboud, the military commander who ruled for 6 years. The protesters chanted in one voice: “To the barracks, you insects.” Abboud’s regime quickly collapsed.
The experience of 1964 was repeated in 2019. The difference is that Bashir left without causing significant bloodshed. The question now is whether Sudan’s military officers will return to their barracks or seek to impose a military leader from their own ranks. The next fight in Sudan will be between the military and the people. – Kheir Allah
Al-Etihad, UAE, April 4
The World Happiness Report, published to coincide with United Nations Happiness Day, notes that India has become less happy over the past year. India’s ranking fell by seven points, from 140 in 2018 to 133 in 2019. The past decade, the average level of happiness has fallen about 1.2 points per year, although no major event has been likely to have an impact on people’s happiness.
Even neighboring Pakistan, which has been plagued by a series of problems, including an economic crisis, has achieved a much better position than India in terms of happiness (Pakistan is ranked 67th, indicating that people in Pakistan are undoubtedly happier than they are in India). Economic growth in India has provided greater prosperity and has driven more people out of poverty. But this wealth did not translate into happiness. This clearly means that happiness does not directly depend on wealth.
One of the reasons for the decline in happiness in India may be that the disparity between the rich and the poor has only increased amid economic growth. Those who continue to suffer from poverty are increasing their ambitions, however, with the emergence of social networking sites, mobile phones and the Internet, which enable them to see what others’ lives look like. Furthermore, while the Indian economy has grown, this growth has been highly asymmetrical across different industries. Some 11 million Indians lost their jobs in 2018, according to a report by the Indian Economic Monitoring Center.
An analytical report showed that individuals belonging to vulnerable groups were the hardest hit by job losses in 2018. Data show clearly that unemployment has steadily increased in India. Similarly, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 76% of Indians are unhappy about lack of jobs, and 73% are unhappy about rising prices. To make matters worse, the advent of artificial intelligence will likely enable computers to replace many unskilled Indian workers, thus further exacerbating the problem. These are all key factors that can help to reduce the feeling of happiness in a country of 1.25 billion people.
Other factors include the lack of adequate housing, making not only the poor but also the middle classes less happy. The report comes at a time when India is holding a general election in stages over two months. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking another term. Modi is still a popular leader but faces challenges from the National Congress Party and a range of regional parties seeking to return to power. The prime minister himself promised millions of jobs for young people, but that promise never materialized. It would be interesting to see how the impact of diminished happiness will influence the way people vote. – Zaker al-Rahman
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