Destigmatising mental health: All you need to know about seeking treatment

Mental health is still a taboo topic within many cultures, but treatment is the best way forward

By Shajar Khan

Published: Wed 27 Oct 2021, 6:33 PM

Last updated: Wed 3 Nov 2021, 12:02 PM

With fear, anxiety and stress increasingly growing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many cannot cope with daily life and the uncertainty of the unknown.

It is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to experiencing mental health issues that may not have been as prevalent before. Combating mental health issues may be daunting.

In a recent interview with specialist psychiatrists Dr Hanan Kandil at Zulekha Hospital Dubai and Dr Ammu Thulaseedharan from Zulekha Hospital Sharjah, they shared insightful knowledge and advice about destigmatising mental health and seeking treatment.

Is mental health considered a taboo topic amongst certain cultures?

Yes, mental health is still a taboo topic within many cultures due to the stigma of being a psychiatrist patient. Doctors are often faced with situations where children seek help and are met with disapproval from parents, grandparents, or elders.

Are people embarrassed to seek help to improve their mental health?

In some cases, people are ashamed to seek help or admit that they have a mental illness. Many people believe that there is a stigma attached to someone who is seeking psychological or psychiatric help. People view this as being mentally unstable; therefore, they do not choose not to seek help out of fear of being judged and stereotyped. Many people are on chronic medication and seek help from medical professionals, and having psychiatric treatment should not be viewed differently. During the pandemic, there is an increase in people seeking help for various mental illnesses and breaking the stereotype.

How can a person combat stress and worry?

According to Dr Kandil, it is essential to focus on the outcome or the solution to a problem rather than dwelling in a negative mindset. During the Covid-19 Pandemic, many employees were given pay cuts and some paychecks were less than 50% of their regular income. It is essential to find the good in a situation – the remaining 50% of the salary received in a situation like this. It is important to be appreciative and grateful as well as focus on what can be done.

Many relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and walking, atomically calms your nervous system. Being around positive people and prioritising/limiting the focus to one particular task at a time will also eradicate the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Another great technique to combat stress and worry is to stay in the moment and not focus on the future or the past. Dr Kandil is a firm believer in letting go of what you cannot change and understanding that your energy is fixed. When you waste time and energy in situations you cannot change, it will be at the expense of the tasks you can accomplish and situations you can change.

Does religion or spirituality play a significant role in the decision-making process of consulting or not consulting with a psychiatrist?

The suicide rate in countries with a religious background is less than in countries that may not be as religiously inclined. People who are spiritual or religious belief that a higher power is less likely to feel hopeless. Should they feel isolated, lonely or sad – they often believe that a bigger power changes the situation and many take comfort in knowing that. It creates hope during difficult times. According to Dr Kandel, many people have been drawn to religion and spirituality more so than before.

Is consulting with a psychologist or psychiatrist expensive?

Consulting a psychologist or psychotherapist may be costly. However, many insurance companies cover psychiatric treatment and their many initiatives and helplines that assist those in need at little to no cost. One of the Initiates is the Happy Minds mental well-being initiative that provides mental healthcare to those in need, offering a free mental health consultation.

Can mental illness be cured?

The first step for any mental illness treatment is explaining the condition to the patient or their loved ones. Once the patient or family has understood the nature of the illness, such as the name and symptoms, the next step is recommending the course of treatment and possible outcomes. Mental illnesses can be brought under control with the help of medications and psychotherapy. Treatments differ from patient to patient depending on the diagnosis and severity of the illness. Some patients may require chronic medication to be healthy and function, while some may require treatment over shorter periods.

Are patients negatively affected using prescribed medication?

According to Dr Thulaseedharan, there are many myths that patients are negatively affected by treatment. The mental illness that the patient is suffering from can affect their function and quality of life. Psychiatrists constantly monitor the patient to ensure that the medication is suitable for the patient. In a situation where the patient has developed a reaction, the prescription is changed immediately. There are various medications available on the market, such as medication with sedation and without sedation. No medication can interfere with the functioning of the patient.

How do I know if I am unwell?

You need to look at yourself and assess how are you feeling. Whether it is a little deviated from the way you usually feel about yourself, you need to look at your relationship with your peers or family members and assess if you are isolating yourself. If something has drastically changed your behaviour and you are no longer able to function the way you have before, it could mean that you are having a social, occupational dysfunction and must seek help.

What is the Happy Minds initiative?

In line with the UAE objective to make the Emirates a world leader in quality of life, Zulekha Hospital has launched 'Happy Minds' — Mental wellbeing program. The initiative aims to destigmatise victims of mental health problems and help them feel more comfortable with seeking professional assistance.

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