Complex Made Simple

Understanding the science behind mental illness could help reduce stigma: HMC

The conference was hosted by HMC’s Psychiatry Department

Awareness of biological explanations for mental health problems can help to de-stigmatize mental illness in the community, according to Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) Senior Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Suhaila Ghuloum.


“There is significant literature that provides scientific evidence to suggest there are biological factors implicated in a wide variety of illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and raising awareness of this may go some way toward removing the stigma associated with these and other mental illnesses seen in Qatar,” said Dr. Ghuloum at the Qatar International Psychiatry Conference, held recently in Doha.


“Understanding that there could be a scientific explanation for someone’s illness, and that it is not something that is inexplicable or scary, can help to demystify the illness for people, and generate empathy for the person affected and their family,” she added.


The conference, which focused on the science behind psychiatry and the latest developments in the field, was hosted by HMC’s Psychiatry Department, and included international guest speakers from the UK, the US, Australia, and Europe, who spoke on scientific rationalizations related to a number of mental health topics, including schizophrenia, depression, hallucinations, and novel approaches to their treatments, and the role genetics play in mental illnesses.


Now in its fourth year, the conference has become an important professional development opportunity for many mental health care professionals, according to Dr. Ghuloum.


Several hundred attendees from Qatar and the region were welcomed to the conference by HMC Chairman of Psychiatry Department Prof. Peter Woodruff during an opening address.


“The conference highlights the science that underpins clinical practice, and provides updates on the latest developments in the rapidly developing fields of neuroscience, genetics, behavioral and clinical science and therapeutics,” Prof. Woodruff said.


“Mental health has become a prominent healthcare topic in Qatar following the introduction of the Supreme Council of Health’s Mental Health Strategy in 2013, and dialogues such that this conference presents are important in further developing industry practices in the country by creating a platform for experts to share their knowledge and experiences,” added Prof. Woodruff.


The experts at this year’s conference included scientists, researchers, clinical psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. Many of the topics during the conference were on common global mental health issues, though a number of oral presentations focused on the Gulf region.


Dr. Mohammed Al Banna, who spoke about cultural adaptations of clinical testing for assessing a patient’s mental state, said “There is an increasing body of research work being conducted which is helping to build a distinctive profile of mental health issues among the populations in the region.”


Over 20 research abstracts were on display throughout the conference, detailing a number of local and regional studies.


The Fourth Qatar International Psychiatry Conference was partially funded by HMC’s Academic Health System (AHS) office. The AHS is a joint partnership between healthcare providers and academic institutions to integrate research, education and clinical practice through meaningful partnerships.


AHS members include HMC, Sidra Medical and Research Center, Primary Health Care Corporation, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Qatar University, University of Calgary-Qatar, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, and College of North Atlantic-Qatar.