As women in Qatar increasingly enter the workforce—while also taking care of the family—their mental wellbeing has become all the more important, requiring new efforts to raise awareness of mental health in the country.
Women in Qatar have long outnumbered men in education and are increasingly taking on roles in the workforce, a fact which often sees the nation being praised for the opportunities it provides for its female population.
However, as in the rest of the world, the mental health implications of career advancement on women in Qatar—many of whom are also bringing up families at home—is often not fully understood or addressed.
"The rate of employment for mothers (in Qatar) is much higher than men,” says Buthaina Al Janahi, a Qatari writer, mother-of-three, and founder of the writing platform Qalam Hebr for Creative Writing. “It means that our abilities to maintain a work-life balance is much stronger, but at the same time, we need to make sure that our mental health is stable,"
"It's constraining for full-time working mothers to have these different hats at the same time, while also suffering from anxiety and sometimes depression."
Al Janahi is a columnist at Al Arab newspaper, where she has written about anxiety and depression among Qatari women who take on jobs. By documenting stories of women going through various mental and psychological states when balancing work and life with the prenatal period, Al Janahi hopes to challenge the stigmatization of mental health patients in Qatar.
The need to cover mental illnesses, however, was something that Al Janahi realized only after participating in the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.
"I was hesitant in the beginning (after getting selected for the fellowship) as I thought: ‘This is not my field’,” she says. “But when I tried to dig deep into mental health, I discovered that mental health is a lifestyle phenomenon. I felt it was time for me to look at the topics that are of concern to me and also reflect on my situation as a full-time working mother."
Al Janahi's participation in the fellowship came about in 2016 through a collaboration between the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH)—a global initiative of Qatar Foundation (QF)—and the US-based The Carter Center that brought the fellowship to the citizens and residents of Qatar. WISH manages the fellowship in Doha by facilitating media training and gearing the program to meet the needs of local media, while The Carter Center provides participants with training and mentorship in Atlanta.
Alongside Al Janahi, WISH selected three other Doha-based journalists as part of the first cohort to attend the fellowship program and raise awareness of mental health issues back in Qatar.
It's constraining for full-time working mothers to have these different hats at the same time, while also suffering from anxiety and sometimes depression.
During the fellowship, Al Janahi published 14 articles related to mental health, created an awareness video with the Weyak Mental Health Friends Association, and wrote a 30-page research paper on the health constraints placed upon working Qatari mothers and the policy changes needed to address them.
In her work, she argued that organizations need to provide their female employees with flexible working hours, extended maternity leave and holidays, and outreach services to help them maintain a healthy work-life balance without it taking a toll on their mental health.
Reporting on such topics came with its challenges. Al Janahi said that when she tried to reach out to people, her interview requests would be turned down because people didn't want to discuss the topic. In other cases, many people and institutions were skeptical about whether discussing the issue in the media would lead to meaningful change.
"People wanted to talk about this issue, but they didn't know what might be the right approach when it comes to the law or the rights of women," said Al Janahi. "Some institutions also felt hesitant about the situation because they felt that our approach was not directed toward direct policy change, as it was related to raising awareness within society".
Mental health is a lifestyle phenomenon. I felt it was time for me to look at the topics that are of concern to me and also reflect on my situation as a full-time working mother.
Since 2016, seven professional journalists from Qatar have participated in the fellowship, while last year, the fellowship was also extended to students studying at QF partner universities.
The inclusion of students in the program is aimed at training them on how to report ethically and accurately on mental illnesses before they embark upon their professional careers. The fellowship is part of WISH's larger drive to not only raise awareness about mental health, but drive long-term, policy-level change to mental illnesses in Qatar and beyond.
According to Al Janahi, programs like the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism help people understand mental illnesses. This begins to dissolve societal stigmas that cause emotional and psychological stress—especially among ambitious working mothers—and ultimately strengthens Qatari families and households.