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Priory Hospital Roehampton offers bespoke Arabic service

Led by Dr Al-Falahe, the service combines western psychiatry with an understanding of the Arabic culture and religion to give a holistic approach to treating mental illness.

Arabic patients are regularly treated at the south west London hospital and also at Dr Al-Falahe's clinic in Harley Street in the centre of London.

Dr Al-Falahe explains the cultural differences and the need to develop a novel approach: "A critical issue facing the addictions and mental health communities in the 21st century is how to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

"The stigma of mental illness has decreased considerably in the western world, partly because many high-profile people and celebrities have talked openly about their illness. The positive attitude of the mass media towards mental illness has also made a good impact.

"However, in Arabic countries the stigma is still strong. Mental illness is usually considered to be an evil spirit and sufferers visit healers, who are religious figures, for help. It is important that we encourage Arabic patients to seek professional psychiatric help and for the healers to feel confident enough in our approach and understanding of the culture, to refer individuals for treatment.

"Any form of treatment must be done from a cultural perspective taking into account different beliefs."

Addiction to alcohol and drugs is also an increasing problem particularly with a young generation of wealthy Arabs being targeted by unscrupulous dealers.

Dr Al-Falahe said: "Addiction is quite a new phenomenon in the majority of the Arabic countries and it has come as a big shock to the older generation and the traditional Arabic families.

"Proper medical help for addicts has not been available in the past as treatment has been within the criminal system rather than the medical system. Addiction was considered a crime rather than an illness.

"Rehabilitation programmes are still very rare in the Arab region and counselling and therapy almost non-existent. The treatment that is available is usually exchanging one addiction for another, for example a patient with alcohol addiction treated will valium and may exchange his alcohol addiction for valium addiction."

He added: "Improving perceptions towards ex-users and people with mental illness enables them to easily rejoin society and participate in economic and social activities.

"There is still a lot of work to be done in Arabic culture to de-stigmatise mental illness and addiction but the situation is slowly improving. By understanding the cultural differences and offering bespoke treatment programmes we are making inroads."

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