Saudis welcome new mental health tools on Apple devices

About one in three citizens will experience a mental health issue, according to 2019 national survey

New health features on Apple products provide innovative tools and apps across platforms. Photo: Apple
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Apple's decision to add tools to assess mental health and identify depression to its devices has been welcomed by users in Saudi Arabia.

A nationwide survey has found about one third of citizens will experience mental health-related conditions at some point in their lives.

The features will be introduced with the next major update of operating systems for Apple's iPhones, iPads and smart watches later this year, the company announced this week at its 34th Worldwide Developers Conference.

“We often take care of our bodies aiming to move more and reach a better fitness level, often neglecting the fact that you can be physically fit yet not necessarily healthy because you’re not taking care of your mental health,” said Haya Sawan, a Saudi fitness coach and mentor in Jeddah.

“With a mental health feature on the Apple Watch, we will be constantly reminded to take care of our mental health, just as often as we do our daily steps and physical activity."

According to the findings of the Saudi National Mental Health Survey released in 2019, 34.2 per cent of Saudis are diagnosed with a mental health condition some time in their life. The prevalence of such conditions was found to be highest in the 15-24 and 25-34 age groups, at 40 per cent, dropping to 29 per cent among those aged 35-49 and to 19 per cent for the 50-65 group.

A study conducted among 465 undergraduates at Umm Al Qura University in Makkah and published in the Neurosciences Journal in 2021 found approximately 54 per cent were experiencing depression, 53 per cent anxiety and 38 per cent stress.

Young Saudis and health coaches said Apple's new features would emphasise the importance of mental health and provide support.

The Health app in iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, and the Mindfulness app in watchOS 10, will allow users to record their feelings, from Very Pleasant to Very Unpleasant. They can also note what has the biggest impact on their feelings and describe their emotional state, such as worried or grateful.

"I love it and think this is the feature we desperately needed and wanted for our generation," said Khawla Idrees, a 34-year-old Saudi health and nutrition expert in Jeddah.

"Everyone in the kingdom now talks openly and extensively about mental health and hygiene, manifesting great things in life, and positivity, especially on social media, and it's a huge part of our daily lives. I can't wait to use this new feature."

Hattan Alsaif, the first Saudi gold medal winner at the International Federation of Muaythai Associations World Championships, said the feature would be extremely helpful, "because now phones are closer to us than people".

"I think it will help a lot, even for people who don’t know about mental health issues," Alsaif, 21, told The National.

Apple had adopted depression and anxiety assessments used in clinics on its Health app, which can help users determine their risk level, connect with regional resources and even create a PDF to share with health authorities.

The company is also launching a journaling app for wellness and another feature to remind users to take their scheduled medication.

Raghad Al Sayed, a 25-year-old Saudi artist in Jeddah, said: "I am thrilled and cannot wait to have these features to start using in my daily life. I start my day with meditation, journaling and then working out. I live a healthy lifestyle, but I am not alone. Almost everyone in Saudi Arabia is now geared towards fitness, physical and mental. You cannot escape mental fitness."

The journaling app on iOS 17 gives users a way to "reflect and practice gratitude through writing about and remembering life’s moments", Apple says.

The new Journaling Suggestions API will offer a personalised set of moments about which to write.

Rawabi Asad, a 32-year-old Saudi health practitioner in Jeddah, said: "I applaud Apple's move to make this part of our daily lives and health care because it's not just about counting the number of steps you take that represents your health, it really is about mental fitness, which we as a country and of course the world now understand that really nothing matters more than your mental health."

Nesreen Amoudi, a 45-year-old Saudi mother in Jeddah, told The National: "When you see people talking about mental health, you don't feel alone. We have so much anxiety in our daily lives, every one of us is dealing with something, whether it's a mother raising a family or a woman CEO leading a company of hundreds of employees.

"Technology and social media can be used as tools to help alleviate the suffering of people, or at least reassure others that we are all fighting battles and it is OK to ask for help."

Hana Jamil, a 37-year-old Saudi designer, said the new feature would be a help in daily life.

"We all know mental health matters to everyone, no one is above it and just how prevalent mental illness all is over the world. This generation has really made it a point for all of us to stop avoiding it and prioritise our mental health over everything."

Updated: June 09, 2023, 3:00 AM