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Stigma on mental illness in the Arab world: beyond the socio-cultural barriers

Rita Merhej (Department of Psychology, Haigazian University, Beirut, Lebanon) (Department of Psychology, Lebanese University, Beirut, Lebanon)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 9 July 2019

Issue publication date: 19 July 2019




Research on mental illness stigma in the Arab world has traditionally focused on socio-cultural barriers that deprive persons with mental illness from their fundamental human right for privacy and informed consent. The purpose of this paper is to address the question whether or not mental health legislations in a number of Arab countries effectively safeguard the human rights of people with mental illness and protect them from stigmatizing and discriminatory practices.


A qualitative review of literature was performed over two rounds of search, targeting published research on mental illness stigma in the Arab world from year 2000 until now and existing national mental health legislations in the Arab world, using English and Arabic databases.


The review reveals that beyond society and culture, persistence of mental illness stigma in the Arab world may be explained by absent or inefficient monitoring mechanisms of mental health legislations and policies within the health-care setting. Although integration of mental health services into the primary health care system is being gradually implemented as a step toward de-stigmatization of mental illness, more remains to be done to change the stigmatizing behavior of the health personnel toward mental illness.


Mental health authorities in the Arab world need to be more aware of the public perceptions explaining people’s fear and reluctance to seek mental health care, so as to ensure that the control and monitoring mechanisms at both the primary and mental health care levels foster a human rights, culturally competent, patient-friendly and non-stigmatizing model of mental health care.



The author acknowledges that there has been no funding supporting this work.


Merhej, R. (2019), "Stigma on mental illness in the Arab world: beyond the socio-cultural barriers", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 285-298.



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