mHealth for Mental Health in the Middle East: Readiness in the West Bank
Palestinians in the West Bank are at heightened risk for mental health problems. Limited availability of clinicians and a host of geopolitical, topographical, and infrastructural challenges create significant regional barriers to clinic-based care. The objective of this study was to examine whether mHealth approaches that leverage mobile phones for remote mental health treatment may be viable alternatives.
Working in partnership with Dunia Health (duniahealth.org), a nonprofit global health startup, we surveyed 272 Palestinian adults in urban, rural and refugee camp settings.
Most participants (93.4%) reported owning mobile phones. The penetration of mobile devices was high across all study sites. Males and females did not differ in their access to this resource. Among mobile phone owners, 79.9% had smartphones, 32.2% had basic mobile phones, and 12.2% owned both. Respondents reported having reliable access to electricity (99.6%) and Wi-Fi (80.9%). Almost all mobile phone owners (99.6%) reported using social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, or Twitter. When asked to estimate the prevalence of mental health problems in the region, 61.4% of participants reported that over half of the people in their communities struggled with depression, posttraumatic stress, or auditory hallucinations. Most participants indicated that they would personally be interested in mHealth for Mental Health options such as bi-directional texting with clinicians (68.8%), smartphone applications (66.5%), unidirectional support texts (64.7%), or web-based interventions (64.0%). Given the populations’ broad access to technology and technological infrastructure, need for care, and openness to engage in mobile interventions, mHealth should be considered a promising strategy for mental health services in the West Bank.
Funded by: The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College and the Houston chapter of the National Arab American Medical Association.