Beliefs hinder treatment of mental illness in UAE

Beliefs hinder treatment of mental illness in UAE

Age-old beliefs hinder proper treatment of some mental cases in the UAE, opined experts in mental health.

By Farhana Chowdhury (

Published: Mon 10 Oct 2011, 8:34 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:46 AM

DUBAIAge-old beliefs hinder proper treatment of some mental cases in the UAE, opined experts in mental health.

A conference of specialists in the field revealed during a discussion on Saturday that most patients suffering from mental illnesses refer to spiritual healers because their families diagnose and associate their condition with religious faults.

“This is a sensitive issue, but in our (Emirati) culture, many tend to turn to healers for mental cases because they think it may have something to do with being possessed by bad devils, having weak faith in God or being affected by black magic.

World Mental Health Day

The World Mental Health Day, recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is observed on October 10 every year to raise public awareness about mental health issues through open discussion of mental disorders, as well as investments in prevention, promotion and treatment.

The healers are usually their first option but when they ‘fail’ to treat the patient, they come to us for treatment, but by that time, the condition of the patient becomes more unstable,” said Dr Khawla Ahmed, Senior Specialist Psychiatrist at Rashid Hospital, Dubai Health Authority.

She added that most families choose to keep the topic under wrap out of conservativeness and family members do not address mental illness as an actual medical condition.

“We want to raise awareness and we want people to know that mental illness is a serious issue here in the UAE. No one is immune to mental illness. It can affect anybody. We want people to realise that there is no shame in talking about these kinds of illnesses and to be open about it,” she said.

Dr Rosamma Abraham, Director of Nursing, Al Amal Hospital, pointed out that the introduction of more Emirati psychiatrists can help these patients relate better during their hospital visits, put their mind at ease and promote positive thinking.

According to a study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on mental health in 2005, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar have a lower number of psychiatrists and psychologists per 100,000 people than the global average. Dr Tarek Abdulla Darwish, Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director, Behavioural Science Pavillion, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi said that presently there is one doctor for 20 patients in the UAE.

He added that the common mental conditions suffered by residents in the UAE are schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) while few suffer from phobias. MDD is a chronic mental condition with symptoms such as guilt, depressive moods, anxiety, the feeling of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and insomnia. The World Health Organisation outlines the condition to be more prominent in women than in men.

“The incident of depression in women compared to men is two to one. About 10 to 15 per cent of women suffer from depression while it is five to 10 per cent in men worldwide. While there are no exact numbers here in the UAE, the trend is the same here,” said. Dr Ahmed.

Dr Zeina Naim, Specialist Psychologist also from Rashid Hospital, further added: “Hormones and societal pressures play a big role in this. Women nowadays have a lot to balance — their work, home, and families.

They try to balance it all at the same time. In a lot of cases (of MDD), they don’t seek out help because of the stigma attached to mental illness. They don’t reach out or receive the support they need and this leads to chances of the case developing into severe depression.”

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