Untreated mental illness in the GCC results in at least 37.5 million productive working days lost annually equivalent to $3.5 billion

  • -      States PwC Middle East new report ‘Why GCC Governments should invest more in Mental Health’



    By : Mohamed Elttar


    With approximately 15% of the GCC’s population suffering from mental health and illness in any given year, the first PwC Middle East report in a series examining ‘Why GCC Governments should invest more in Mental Health’ lays bare the worrying effects of untreated mental illness, and its socio-economic impact.


    In the GCC, just as is the case across the globe, COVID-19 has exacerbated the burden of mental illness. Despite this, there are only 2.85 psychiatrists per 100,000 population across the six GCC countries.


    There is a strong case for investing in mental health across the GCC – globally, studies have found that for every $1 invested in scaled-up treatment for depression and anxiety, there is a $4 return in improved health and productivity.


    Lina Shadid, Health Industries Leader, PwC Middle East, said“1 out of 4 people will suffer from some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Yet more than 75% of those who need mental health care do not seek it.”


    Shadid added: “In addition to the  devastating impact on sufferers and those around them, poor mental health can have drastic negative economic consequences – both in terms of lost wages due to diminished productivity and increased medical costs. The economic case for investing in mental health has never been clearer. In our newly launched report, we estimate that in the GCC at least 37.5 million productive days are lost per year due to untreated mental illness. This is equivalent to $3.5 billion. It is abundantly clear that if not properly addressed, mental disorders will continue to have an increasing toll across the GCC.”

    Adding: “The good news is there are numerous cost-effective interventions available to governments to help to improve educational outcomes, reduce criminal justice costs, boost workplace productivity, and, most importantly, reduce mortality and improve the quality of life of their citizens.”



    The Global Burden of Disease study estimates that mental disorders are just as common in the GCC as they are worldwide. However, these tend to be underreported due to poor awareness, a shortage in mental health care professionals, and limitations in appropriate and equitable financing.


    An estimated 75% of people who experience mental health difficulties do not seek professional help.

    In Saudi Arabia, 80% of those with severe mental disorders do not seek treatment. Furthermore, some 34% of Saudis meet the criteria for a mental health condition at some point in their life, yet just 4% of the Ministry of Health budget is allocated to mental health.



    Stigma towards mental illness is a major barrier to accessing mental health care in the GCC. This is often as a result of misconceptions and limited understanding of the diagnoses, social and cultural beliefs, and stereotypical media portrayals of people with mental illnesses. Indeed, a survey conducted with 1,000 participants in the UAE found approximately 30% of participants were reluctant to seek help due to the fear of being judged by employers and harming their career progression.


    Access to mental health care in the GCC is also made difficult by limited insurance coverage for mental health conditions and by unaffordable prices for services. In the UAE, for example, a psychotherapy session may cost up to AED 1000.


    Dr. Farah Yehia, Middle East Health Industries, PwC Middle East, said: “Achieving optimal mental health for the population requires collaboration among stakeholders of all sectors. But governments are the ‘ultimate guardian’ of the public’s health, and so they are in a position to take prime responsibility in making sure mental health is promoted and care is accessible to all those who need it. Doing so sets the example for businesses and local communities to follow. “


    Dr. Yehia added: “In this report, we propose a framework, adapted from the WHO Building Blocks of Health Systems and featuring six components, that can aid GCC governments in strengthening their mental health systems. There is work to be done, but much that can be achieved.

    The six components of mental health systems are: Mental Health System Governance, Mental Health Information, Mental Health Awareness and Destigmatization, Mental Health Workforce, Mental Health Service Delivery and Mental Health Care Financing.

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