This week recognized World Mental Health Day (October 10), and as cases of depression increase in the Middle East, SAT-7’s Viewer Support Teams are on hand to offer biblical guidance, prayer, and professional help.
Marianne Awaraji, SAT-7 ARABIC’s Audience Relations Manager, said that depression has been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic. “This resulted in increased domestic violence, isolation, and abuse. Many people have become addicted to streaming services and social media. We find that most of our young viewers who have a problem with addiction turn out to be depressed. This shows the link between isolation, addiction to social media, and depression.”
Mental disorders remain a widely misunderstood and often stigmatized problem in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). While there are vast regional differences, poor mental health remains widespread in the MENA, especially for young people. A large-scale study from 2021 found that close to 40 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds in the Middle East struggled with their mental health during the year,1 while figures from UNICEF indicate that 1 in 6 (22.5 million) young people in the region are living with a mental disorder.2
But mental health problems are not confined to the younger generation, of course. Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions impact people of all ages and are especially prevalent in conflict zone areas and during times of economic crisis.
SAT-7 ARABIC found that depression was by far the most cited mental health issue among people contacting the Viewer Support Team during the first nine months of the year, with 218 cases. Suicidal thoughts (55 cases) and stress (20 cases) were the next most mentioned problems.
“I have suicidal thoughts,” said Darina*, a 21-year-old woman from Egypt. “What prevents me from ending my life is that there are people who need me by their side, but the idea of suicide never leaves my mind.”
SAT-7’s Viewer Support Team thanked Darina for sharing the challenges she is facing, before gently asking for more details. Darina opened up further about her circumstances and thoughts, admitting that this was a rare occurrence for her. Being able to share her situation with the team provided some relief for Darina. “I felt at ease that I was able to express even a small part of how I feel,” she said. Our team encouraged her to faithfully trust in God’s power to change her circumstances.
Aabida*, a young woman from Algeria, felt that her world had fallen apart when she was unable to continue her education. “I am addicted to antidepressants and have been for over a year and a half,” she began. “After [losing my education], I didn’t want anything, and I didn’t dream of anything because I was worried it wouldn’t come true. I lost interest in myself… I attempted suicide three times.”
A member of SAT-7’s Viewer Support Team told Aabida that God’s love for her does not depend on her achievements, and that she is extremely valuable in His eyes. She took this advice to heart, responding, “I was evaluating myself only in terms of education and beauty. You are right; God sees what is in the heart, not what is on the surface. I wish you had been with me earlier. I now know my worth in the eyes of God.”
After a short while, Aabida contacted our team again. “I started going out,” she said, “and the fear began to fade.”
When viewers like Darina and Aabida contact our channels to share their mental health struggles, our trained support teams assess the true nature of the problem and provide appropriate advice. “We show empathy, and we try to ask as many questions as we can,” explains Marianne. “People come with one problem, but the root cause [can be] something else. They may have a set of addictions, but it turns out they are struggling with depression, for example.”
The teams may then offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), biblical counseling, and prayer. Sometimes extra help is needed.
SAT-7 ARABIC has recently appointed a professional psychotherapist to assess the more complex cases and, where appropriate, refer the person to a psychiatrist. The team also works with partner organizations in the region to whom they can refer viewers for counseling at reduced rates.
SAT-7’s Turkish channel is also very aware of the need to be careful when counseling people with mental health problems. Yunus Karaca, Viewer Support Officer at SAT-7 TÜRK, said, “We try to connect our viewers with presenters, local churches, and organizations that have knowledge or expertise in these issues.”
While professional help is important, the teams also testify to the work of the Great Physician who can heal mental and physical health problems. Yunus recounts, “One of our viewers said that before he became a believer he was completely lost and struggled with mental problems, but after he became a believer he changed completely.”
Aryana, a SAT-7 PARS viewer from Iran, had a similarly life-changing experience. “I used to have depression,” she said. “While l was in bed, Jesus healed me and lifted me up. I was walking and running and crying; my child saw it and as a result has come to faith. I believe in the Lord and have no doubt at all. I have never been so well – praise God.”
*Names changed for security.