What has been the true human cost of the global pandemic? On one level, we know the answer. It’s the three-and-a-half million people who have lost their lives, and the much larger number who have caught COVID-19 and now suffer from debilitating long-term conditions. But even those statistics fail to capture the full human impact of this terrible moment in history. We also need to consider the devastating effects the pandemic has had on our mental health.
It’s no exaggeration to say that COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented level of fear, uncertainty and instability to our daily lives. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more mass trauma than World War II and the mental health toll of the coronavirus pandemic will last for many years to come.”
As we move further into 2021, there are glimpses of a “return to normal,” but that goal remains some way in the distance. Enduring the pandemic remains mentally exhausting for everyone. The mental health fall-out from the repeated lockdowns, social isolation and uncertainty about the future has been referred to as “the second pandemic.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2030 depression will be the biggest threat to public health, more than heart disease, cancer, diabetes or obesity.
A bittersweet outcome from the pandemic is that our overall health and wellness is now more important than ever before. Everyone now understands the protection provided by masks and vaccines. But maintaining and enhancing true well-being goes beyond even COVID-19, as important as that is. We need to adopt a fully rounded approach to our health, one that embraces the importance of mental wellness.
Global Wellness Day is an international initiative celebrated around the world, reaching millions of people in more than 150 countries. Celebrated on the second Saturday of June each year with the slogan “One day can change your whole life,” the theme this year rather poignantly is “protecting our mental wellness.”
A bittersweet outcome from the pandemic is that our overall health and wellness is now more important than ever before.
Saudi Arabia has had a mental health policy since 2006. However, the allocation of funds in the area of mental health is still far below other high-income countries. The Saudi National Mental Health Survey published in 2019 found that 34 percent of Saudis meet the criteria for a mental health condition at some point in their life. Moreover, of great concern is that 80 percent of Saudis with severe mental health disorders do not seek any treatment. A further study conducted last year and published in the European Journal of Psychotrauma compared current mental health trends in Saudi Arabia with pre-COVID-19 trends and found the risk of depression had increased by a staggering 71.2 percent.
Certainly, stigma and cultural beliefs about mental health prevent many people seeking help and therefore allocating sufficient funds and creating a non-stigmatized model of mental health care is critical to alleviate the “mental health tsunami” that is on the horizon in Saudi Arabia.
Global Wellness Day is the ideal opportunity to focus on our wellness as an individual and society as a whole and to ask the question, even if it is just for one day, “How can I live a healthier and better life?”
For the first time this year Saudi Arabia will be participating in the Global Wellness Day 12-hour livestream, and there is a variety of wellness initiatives organized in honor of the day, supported by organizations including AMAALA, the Red Sea Development Company, the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and the Fairmont Hotel.
AMAALA is at the forefront of the Kingdom’s future of personal well-being and is redefining the global wellness offering. AMAALA’s Triple Bay will welcome visitors from around the world to the world’s most comprehensive, fully holistic wellness retreat. Medical and integrated resorts are supported by top-tier luxury and numerous recreational activities.
As the hospitality and wellness industry is undoubtedly leading the way in offering nature-filled wellness destinations and facilities to transform personal wellbeing, there is still much we can do on an individual, corporate and community level. It really does take just one day to make the decision to live better and change our lives as we come through this pandemic and prepare for a new, healthier future.
• Victoria Sharpe, manager, wellness at AMAALA. Victoria leads the wellness offering at AMAALA and is also the global wellness day ambassador for Saudi Arabia.