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National Strategy For Mental Health Urged

Sajila Saseendran / 11 October 2009

DUBAI The UAE government has been urged to formulate a national strategy for addressing the mental health issues faced by the working age population and make counselling services in workplaces mandatory.

The call came at a seminar on “Mental Health Challenges at Workplace in the UAE,” organised by the Corporate Welfare Department of ETA Ascon Star Group and the Indian Consulate in Dubai on Saturday.

Organised to mark the World Mental Health Day 2009, the seminar was attended by Human Resources managers and other representatives of various companies, who were urged to devise a mechanism to pick up early signs of depression and other mental health disorders among their workers, and support them in getting medical help and returning to work after treatment.

Dr Linda Hoyle, managing director of Workplace Potential in the UK, who has collaborated with the UK government’s  initiative in forming a national mental health strategy for working age population, that is due to be released in November, said the example that the UK government has done is a good role model for other countries.

“I’d encourage the UAE government to do something similar by listening to the employees, managers, support groups and counsellors who already offer services to look at what the actual issues here are and think about where they might have to invest money,” she told Khaleej Times after the seminar.

Assigning line managers to open up discussions that will assess the emotional problems among employees, sending workers for counselling, allowing physicians to give fitness certificates on the professional capacities of the patients, and conducting return- to-work interviews and other assessment programmes to ensure that the recovered employee is able to resume his job are the major parts of the UK strategy.  Lauding ETA Ascon Star Group for starting a Corporate Welfare Department with more than 15 counsellors, Head of Psychiatry Department in Rashid Hospital Dr Mohammed Hassan Fayek , said companies here should follow ETA’s example which would, in the long run, pay back to their organisations and the society.

“There is a big number of expatriates among our patients, including inpatients. We don’t want to stigmatise patients with mental health problems. They should be given emotional and medical help and a chance to go back to their jobs.” Consul General of India Venu Rajamony said the consulate has been conducting free counselling services for members of the Indian community and is also running a hotline dedicated for those under stress and depression. Specialist Psychiatrist with NMC Specialty Hospital Dr V.S. Kumar noted that many doctors also fail to understand the underlying mental health issues while treating patients for their physical health problems.

Noting that anxiety and depression are the most prevalent forms of mental illness, he said panic disorder was very common here. “We should have a different outlook and have empathetic view towards people’s mental health problems.”


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