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People with Depression and Anxiety Avoiding Treatment: Experts

Olivia Olarte & Asma Ali Zain
Filed on June 26, 2009

ABU DHABI/DUBAI — The economic crisis is to blame for the increase in the number of people suffering from depression and anxiety all over the world, according to psychiatrists.

“There is an increase of (people suffering from) depression all around the world due to economic crisis, although other societies are more affected than others,” Dr Adel Zaraa, consultant psychiatrist at Gulf Diagnostics Centre in Abu Dhabi told Khaleej Times.

Though a significant population in the UAE is suffering from anxiety or depression, the majority refuse to accept that they are mentally ill, according&to experts.

Social stigma, expensive and outdated treatment methods and the lack of mental health specialists are among the reasons why people avoid&seeking  treatment.

“The stigma attached to any disease related to the mind has been preventing people from coming forward to get help for a long time,” said Dr Bahjat Balbous, Specialist Psychiatrist, Al&Amal Hospital.

Dr Balbous said that at least 75 per cent of the mental illness cases in the country were linked to anxiety and depression. “However, we cannot pinpoint any one reason for the increase,” he said, adding that it could be related to the genes or socio-economic factors.

According to Dr Tarik S. Khammas, consultant psychiatrist at Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi, “People suffering from depression  have increased all over the world, not just in the UAE, due to complexity of life and financial problem. This is common in all countries where up to 15 per cent of each population (suffer from) depression, but some are not bad enough to check with doctors,” he said.

“People here are living happily, (but) anxiety maybe, due to (worrying about) their salaries, position, being away from their homeland. It is normal,” Dr Khammas pointed out.

Dr Khammas observed that Westerners were more willing to seek treatment. “The Westerners who have history of depression come to me asking for a refill of medication,” he said.

He added that stigma still plays a major role in the hesitation to seek treatment here, particularly among Arabs and Asians. “Most of the Asians don’t have enough money, because most insurance companies don’t cover their treatment,” explained Dr Khammas. However, there is a slight shift in the trend, felt Dr. Balbous. “People are less ashamed now than they used to be and talk more about their mental health, which is a noticable change,” he said.

A recently concluded mental health conference revealed that an average patient in the country spent more than Dh20,000 a year on treatment of mental illness. While UAE nationals get free treatment and medicines in government hospitals, expatriates are required to pay minimal. However, shortage of mental health specialists still bogs modern treatment methods.

“There are only 180 specialist psychiatrists working in the UAE. Only 10 per cent of them are doctors who know how to use hypnosis in treating patients in critical cases,” said Dr Balbous.

“Global percentage for schizophrenia is one per cent, and the UAE is not far from this percentage,” he added. The conference was also told that at least 55 per cent of the patients refused to accept that they were ill. “Poor compliance leads to failed medical treatment and drug-resistant conditions,” said Dr Khalid Shirazy, medical and regulatory manager, AstraZeneca Gulf, organiser of the conference. “A major issue in the UAE is how well patients are on drug compliance and how well they follow the instructions for taking medication.”

The expert said that more people were prone to mental illnesses due to the fast-paced lifestyle in the region.

“Similar to chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma, mental health disorders can be controlled and managed by early visits to a psychiatry clinic,” said Dr Mona Issa Jakka, specialist psychiatrist, Obeid Allah Hospital, Ras Al Khaimah. Treatment helps patients to re-enjoy their family life, work and social activities, she added.

olivia@khaleejtimes.ae

asmaalizain@khaleejtimes.com


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