The development of mental health services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia between the past, present and future


Report prepared

Dr. Haifa Mohammed Saleh Al-Qahtani
Consultant psychiatrist and behavioral therapist
Co-chair of the Division of Behavioral Therapy at the World Psychiatric Association
Medical Renewal and Stimulation Complex Foundation
Dammam, Saudi Arabia

We also extend our thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of this investigation
Providers of mental health care



The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken significant steps towards developing the mental health system, most notably:

Approval of teaching psychology in universities.

Sending scholarship students to specialize in psychiatry.

Bring in experts from abroad and benefit from them internally.

Launching the fellowship program in psychiatry.

The efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continued to approve and develop a system for mental health care, and put research related to mental health among the priorities of funding health research, which was newly created. .

This report seeks to identify the level of development of mental health services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the past two decades, in addition to future aspirations to keep pace with Vision 2030. It consists of two parts, the first reviews the opinions of some specialists in medicine and psychology, and the second explores the opinions of beneficiaries of mental health care services in the two sectors. public and private.

Introduction – What is mental health?

Before going through the details of this report, it is important to put a comprehensive and simplified definition of mental health.

Perhaps the simplest and most comprehensive definition is this one:

“A state of physical, emotional, intellectual, and social well-being that enables individuals to fulfill their own potential, adapt to normal types of stress, and work with dedication and effectiveness to contribute to their society.”

The state of mental health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

After we have developed a simplified definition of the concept of mental health, let us present a quick summary of the situation of mental health in the Kingdom, with the help of some official statistics. As the Saudi National Survey of Mental Health, which was released in 2019, showed: After conducting interviews with 4004 members of the Saudi society, females and males, between fifteen and sixty-five years of age.


34% of Saudis meet the criteria for diagnosing at least one of the sixteen common mental disorders surveyed.

83% of Saudis diagnosed with severe mental health disorders do not seek any kind of treatment.

8.5% of Saudis diagnosed with severe mental health disorders seek treatment from clerics and non-medical therapists.

2/5 of Saudi youth meet the criteria for diagnosing at least one of the sixteen disorders.

The national survey identified the most common mental health disorders in the Kingdom and they were as follows:

Separation anxiety disorder.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Major depressive disorder.

– social phobia.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Note that the survey was unable to measure only a limited number of

Mental disorders and did not include children under the age of 15 or the elderly

The mental health care system

To date, the Ministry of Health is the main provider of mental health services in the Kingdom, as the Ministry has established 19 psychiatric hospitals containing:

2520 beds for the treatment of various mental disorders.

1177 beds for addiction treatment.

In addition to 1,037 counseling clinics in primary care centers, 21 centers and clinics for the treatment of developmental disorders, in addition to 120 centers and clinics for psychiatry in the private sector.

As for the cadres, the number of psychiatrists in the two sectors is 1,043 psychiatrists, in addition to more than 5,000 psychologists and more than 10,000 social workers, most of whom hold a bachelor’s degree.

The development of the mental health sector in the Kingdom
The beginning of efforts to develop the psychiatric sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia dates back to the year 1952 AD, when the first psychiatric hospital was opened in the city of Taif. Obtaining a specialization in psychology in the Kingdom until the year 1970 AD, and the last two decades witnessed tangible developments in the course of the mental health system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps one of the most important stations of this development is the approval of the Saudi Fellowship in Psychiatry in 1997 by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, and the issuance of the first version of the Saudi Atlas of Mental Health in 2007, which is an important document that describes the historical development of the situation of mental and social health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and identifies Deficiencies in the mental health system, and proposals for the development of psychological services, research, construction, and information systems. The National Mental Health Survey was conducted in 2010.

This was followed by a set of developmental steps, such as the establishment of the first fellowship program for child psychiatry in 2011 AD, and then the issuance of the mental health care system law in 2014 AD, in addition to the establishment of the National Center for Mental Health, which is a national center that works to bridge the gap in the field of scientific research directed at mental health.

The Saudi Society for Occupational Psychology was also established in 2019, which seeks to be a scientific reference for those belonging to the specialty and to advance the profession in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a science and practice through evidence-based interventions for everyone who needs it with the best quality standards in health practice. And the last of these steps is a plan to equip a mental health ward in 45 government hospitals. All of these steps were aimed at establishing a solid and scientific base to advance the development of the Saudi mental health system.

Mental health developments in the Kingdom coincided with a relative increase in societal awareness of mental health concepts. As is the case with the cycle of awareness that went through mental health in various countries of the world, the mental health system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia went through the same difficult beginnings and the great challenges that it faces.

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