There’s a great deal of confusion surrounding the prescription of antidepressants in the UAE, but Dr Kenneth Mitchell, a consultant psychiatrist at Dubai’s LightHouse Wellness Centre, offers some useful tips. “Unlike many western countries, antidepressants in the UAE are semi-controlled medications, thus restricting how they are prescribed, how much, by which doctor and for how long. There is thus a far greater emphasis on antidepressants being prescribed by psychiatrists, which has the benefit of them being prescribed by the specialist doctors who best understand them and their use.
“Being semi-controlled means only certain pharmacies can supply antidepressants. Only 30 days’ supply can be dispensed at a time, with the possibility of a refill after a further 30 days. It is very important that patients are reviewed regularly to see how they are progressing mentally and physically, monitor for side effects, and make dose adjustments or medication changes when appropriate.
“Antidepressants must be taken regularly every day, otherwise they will not work. It takes two to three weeks to show significant signs of improvement and they may continue to improve for up to eight weeks. The patient should be seen within two weeks of commencing antidepressants to address any concerns regarding side effects and risks of self-harm, how best to take them, and the importance of regular daily doses. A further review should occur within two weeks to assess progress, side effects and make any necessary changes in dose or other management.
“A common myth is that antidepressants are addictive. None of them are and they do not cause dependence. They are not ‘happy pills’, they only work on people with a chemical imbalance in their brains. Another myth is that they change your personality. They do not; they simply return your personality and brain function to what they used to be before the depression.
“When travelling abroad, to minimise problems at airports and customs, it is advisable to have a photocopy of your prescription and/or a travel certificate from your doctor. Newly arrived residents are allowed to bring up to three months’ supply of prescribed medications, provided they are legal in the UAE. Residents returning to the UAE are allowed to bring only one month’s supply.”