It’s a shame to ignore mental health issues: Sheikh Abdullah
'Mental health is no longer a taboo subject, and more efforts are needed to further create awareness.'
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, on Sunday acknowledged that mental health is an integral aspect of an individual’s wellness.
He made this observation during a virtual interaction at a session of the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations (MBZMFG, 2021). Sheikh Abdullah said in the past, mental health was a taboo subject and the public often equated it with physical problems.
“We need to understand that anyone can experience mental health problems. There is no shame in suffering from this condition. But it’s a shame to ignore it,” he added.
Sheikh Abdullah made the observation while responding to Dayane Brake, a student at Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi, who expressed her fear about the mental health issue after results of the recent survey conducted by the MBZMFG showed that 25 per cent of the university students in the UAE described their mental health as either “bad” or “not good”.
“One of the things that worries me most is mental health. This topic is not easy to discuss, but our generation has started to overcome that. The global pandemic has affected mental health, increasing the rates of depression and anxiety,” she said.
Brake says social media was playing a huge part in affecting mental health as well. “Until now, we don’t talk about these issues openly despite the fact that a significant number of people suffer from depression and anxiety. I believe that we need to start raising awareness and promote early treatment to help our society and solve these problems,” she said.
Sheikh Abdullah said that there was a growing need to put more effort in studying mental health problems and raising further social awareness.
“There must be more information in this. And not just academic studies, but also, we need to gather more statistics and data to help understand it more and overcome these problems before they get bigger. The problems could have been initiated from the environment, genetics, stress or even society,” he said.
He pointed out that Covid-19 outbreak made the public study and work from home and that maintaining “our social relationship with family and friends became more difficult. “And it does not affect youth only, the elderly can have mental health problems as well. There is also an increase in the number of older people who suffer from memory loss,” he said.
What people can do prevent mental health issues
Speaking about what young people could do to protect their mental health amid the Covid-19 challenge, Dr Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University in the United States (US), said it was important to address mental health here and now rather than in the near future.
She noted that happiness directly correlates with innovation and health. “Research has shown that people who are more joyful at 18 are more likely to get a job they liked at the age of 27,” said, adding that another research also suggested that a person’s job performance and creative thinking might depend on their mental health and happiness levels.
“One study shows that the happiness level affects the immune function, something we need to pay attention to right now. People are more likely to catch rhinoviruses if they are not happy,” said Dr Santos.
Happiness tips to protect mental health
* Better social connection: Dr Santos said all available research shows: “we are happier when we are being social and when we are spending time with other people no matter our personality type. This is much streakier during this time of physical distancing owing to Covid-19. You must make sure you have "nutritious social time" through calling a friend, speaking to people you love in real time so you can feel better. We should use technology to connect to one another.”
* Take a mindful technology check: She said whenever we pick up our phone, we should think about what we are going to use it for. “For example, using it when you are bored! Is it the best way to use it? We should always have a purpose for picking up a phone and what else could you be doing instead of using the phone?," she asked,
* Do more for other people: “Happy people are more social. They tend to volunteer more and donate money to things that matter. They are more other orientated than self-orientated,” she said.
* Be more present: She advised the public to try mindfulness techniques like focussing on their breathing, deal with emotions as they come and process them even if they are negative. “Shutting down these feelings have cognitive and health consequences,” she added.
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