CUD Students Address the Stigma of Mental Health through Innovative Research | A Practical Alternative to Traditional Healthcare

Recognizing the impact

A multi-disciplinary team of students at Canadian University Dubai (CUD) created a business plan during the course: Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The project focused on providing solutions to the social problem of mental health and wellness, particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Through the mentorship of Professor Ahmed Al-Gindy, an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering, Applied Science, and Technology at CUD, the students evolved the business plan idea significantly and transformed the business plan into research that will be presented in Italy and subsequently published into a global journal. The student team included: Madhulika Karthi, Mayar Alsager, Rahul Mehta, and Nash Namulondo.

Focus on mental health and wellness in the UAE

“Our objective was to offer remedies to address a societal issue regarding mental health. Our study suggested various approaches to promote mental health and well-being, specifically emphasizing the UAE and how it compares with other countries in this area. Our research was of particular significance since it was conducted amid the Covid-19 pandemic.” Madhulika Karthi, CUD Alumni, BBA. in Accounting and Finance

The students extensively researched literature, conducted interviews with patients, doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists, and then utilized their findings to conduct surveys and assessments. The research yielded some surprising findings. Speaking about this, Madhulika Karthi, CUD Alumni, BBA. in Accounting and Finance said: “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UAE has the highest regional prevalence of depression, with 5.1% of the population affected by depression. This figure is astounding because it is likely not a full reflection of the number of people that are depressed. Only 4.1% of people in the country acknowledge having anxiety. She further went on to say that according to statistics, there are 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.51 psychologists, 0.25 social workers, 0.04 physical therapists, and 0.04 other health professionals for every 100,000 people. The need for mental health support is growing worldwide.”

Overcoming cultural barriers and increasing awareness

The social stigma associated with mental illness is a formidable barrier that often hinders individuals in dire need of mental health assistance. It creates a pessimistic perception of therapy and deters people from seeking essential care. As a result, a considerable segment of the population with mental health conditions does not receive any form of mental health treatment. Speaking about the research; Mayar Alsager, CUD student, BSc. in Electrical Engineering said: “In many regions of the world, talking about mental health is a taboo topic. It is inspiring to see how the UAE government is implementing initiatives, such as the UAE National Policy for the Promotion of Mental Health, which drives various measures to construct, improve and broaden mental health facilities catering to all age groups. Nonetheless, the transformation of people's perspectives concerning mental illness, a phenomenon frequently ostracized by other communities, represents the fundamental catalyst that positively revolutionizes the mental health paradigm.”

Exploring non-traditional options for improved well-being

The research ultimately proposed a solution to tackle these findings, providing a practical alternative to traditional mental healthcare in the UAE. The team’s research resulted in the creation of a personalized mental health application that addresses a person's specific mental health needs and promotes overall well-being. Existing mental wellness apps exist for meditation and primarily revolve around addressing mood and anxiety disorders. This forward-thinking application offers affordable and easily accessible support, information, education, and connections to help individuals improve their mental well-being. It provides access to various resources such as mental health forums, podcasts, magazines, and therapy sessions, either online or in person. Moreover, the use of the app can be anonymous for users.

Applications for mental health have been characterized by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as adaptable and affordable approaches to closing the mental health treatment gap. Mental health applications offer a platform of potential benefits such as portability, accessibility, affordability, convenience, anonymity, and promptness. These attributes are particularly advantageous for individuals living in rural areas, those on waiting lists for in-person therapy, teenagers who may feel more comfortable sharing their experiences under an anonymous identity, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or those apprehensive about the stigma attached to mental illness. These applications help alleviate the burden on conventional mental healthcare by providing viable alternatives.

Enhancing the quality of life: Treating mental health improves overall well-being

“Our research team aimed to overcome cultural barriers in society by increasing awareness about mental health. Knowledge is power in promoting mental well-being.” Madhulika Karthi, CUD Alumni, BBA. in Accounting and Finance.

Treating mental health is crucial to the success of any society. Unfortunately, seeing a therapist can be expensive and many medical insurance companies do not provide coverage for this service, making it inaccessible for some patients. “Our team, through the research findings, became advocates for improving mental health in the region. The importance of addressing mental health issues in society was emphasized, and the pandemic highlighted the need for increased awareness of mental health globally. As a result, the UAE government is developing initiatives and happiness strategies." Mayar Alsager, CUD student, BSc. in Electrical Engineering

Presentation at IEEE EUROCON 2023 and future publication

Professor Ahmed Al-Gindy, an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering, Applied Science and Technology, at CUD, will be presenting the research at ‘The Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) EUROCON 2023’ event in Italy, which is themed 'A new era for scientific ideas and applications'. EUROCON is a significant global platform that facilitates the sharing of ideas, fundamental theories, design approaches, methodologies, techniques, and experimental findings among academic scholars, research establishments, and industry professionals. As one of the premier conferences of IEEE Region 8, it covers a vast region spanning Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Following the presentation of the paper at the IEEE EUROCON 2023, the research will be published in a journal.

"Dr. Al-Gindy provided invaluable mentorship and guidance to our team throughout the research process, and we are grateful for the valuable research and literature skills we learned under his leadership. Upon completing our innovation and entrepreneurship course, Dr. Al-Gindy encouraged us to further develop our research into a publication, which was a particularly empowering experience. The skills I gained through this research have been instrumental in my career journey and have sparked my passion for writing, reviews, and research." Mayar Alsager, CUD student, BSc. in Electrical Engineering