Dubai Expats should not ignore mental health

Dubai: An unfortunate fallout of urbanisation and rapid progress is often the deteriorating mental health of people who hold the seams of a city together. According to the World Health Organisation, mental health issues could be a major cause of death and disability by 2020.

As a fast-growing city like Dubai reaches new heights of urbanisation, the expatriate population, especially people compelled to stay away from their families for long periods, could experience forms of depression.

Take the case of Sam P, a salesman from Kerala, who came to the UAE in 2011 to earn a living, leaving his wife and infant son behind. “I was compelled to turn into a bachelor and rent bed-space here. My parents are old and I cannot afford to sponsor my family. I have missed out on so many milestones in my two-year-old son’s life. I have gone home only once in two years. Here in the city, I have to keep away from places that have family events in malls and parks. I feel stressed and lonely.”

The young man has been attending counselling sessions with a community psychologist.
The suicide rate among Asian expatriates, particularly the Indian community, have been climbing. Those deprived of normal family situations find it difficult to ‘vent’ the frustrations they experience at the workplace.

According to the Indian Worker Resource Centre (IWRC), 174 Indians committed suicide in 2007, but a counselling programme reduced this number to 72 in 2014.

There is a lack of awareness that mental health is an invisible killer that needs to be tackled with medical intervention.

Stress and loneliness are affect the mental equilibrium of people, Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director at the Light House Arabia, said.

For quite sometime depression was the main mental issue among expatriates, Dr Afridi pointed out, but with more complicated mental illnesses have now surfaced.

At her clinic, Dr Afridi treats cases of adjustment disorder with anxiety or depression (or both), relationship problems (marital therapy), anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse.

“These disorders are seen in children as well as adults who come to our clinic. These are ‘disorders’ have a biological, a psychological, and a social component,” she explained.

While no specific data is available, health specialists who spoke at the first UAE conference on mental health in primary care held in 2010, agreed that that mental health issues are on the rise.

Dr Mona Kuwari, director of primary health at the Ministry of Health, had spoken about cases of depression and patients reporting symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and a lack of sleep.

She added that depression was offset by a host of internal and external stresses, genetic factors and biological changes in the brain.

Who is at risk?

Individuals who live alone in the UAE alone are probably most at risk unless they establish a network and a rhythm to their daily lives. However, there is also a genetic factor to mental illnesses and expatriates who lack the skills to cope with the demands of rapid change tend to struggle with these disorders.

“It is important that people learn to spot the early symptoms in their colleagues or in themselves and do not ignore them,” Dr Afridi said.

There is often a stigma attached to mental illness and people feel they will be perceived as ‘crazy’ if they seek help for mental health issues. A psychologist with talk therapy can help the patient understand the triggers and provide coping strategies to deal with the issues, while the psychiatrist is required when a patient is symptomatic and might require prescription medication.

Dr Afridi said: “Not only does mental illness affect your personal and professional life, it greatly reduces the quality of one’s life. It is like carrying around a heavy ball and chain, which weighs you down and goes every where you go until you make a commitment to sit down and address it. But yes, work productively, social relationships, quality of life- all decline as a result of the above disorders. So many of my clients have said ‘I wish I had dealt with this earlier because I wasted so many of my days drowning in my depression/anxiety etc’ or ‘i missed my child’s childhood because I wasn’t well for so many years’.”

The bottom line is that no one should think that they have to live with mental illness/disorder as modern medicine has a treatment for it.

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