Make mental health a top priority in UAE

The only way to tackle mental health problems is to understand them and break the taboo that surrounds them

Prevention is the best form of medicine, they say. But what can we do when the condition we want to put a stop to is not something that most people are willing to acknowledge? Sadly, there is a woeful lack of awareness regarding the severity of mental health issues in the UAE and, indeed, precisely how many people these issues affect. That doesn’t mean that the problem is left entirely undiscussed – it isn’t – but we rarely attach enough importance to it, particularly in the case of young people. Many of us consider these types of conversations too awkward to broach.

We talk about the emotional problems and unreasonable behaviour of a child without trying to investigate the cause of those actions and the depth of the problems that a young person may be burdened with. In doing so, we often look past those who need our help most.

The case of Abhimanyu Sadasivan, a pupil of an Indian school, is an example. He committed suicide five days after writing a farewell note on his exam answer sheet on February 25. His parents were informed of the note only after the boy failed to appear for a maths exam on March 2.

Mental health issues arise in many forms. As Dr Deema Sihweil of the Carbone Clinic of Dubai has pointed out, they can be triggered by all sorts of factors, from anxiety to substance abuse. Research has also shown links between lack of exercise and mental illnesses, which is perhaps why many children in the UAE are at greater risk.

Such issues can have desperate consequences. As The National reports, without early intervention, childhood depression can recur later in life in the form of chronic psychological disabilities, substance dependency, social isolation or the inability to hold down a job. It can also lead to suicide.

To treat this condition, it’s crucial to recognise the causes behind it. As this newspaper has pointed out previously, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but rasing awareness about the importance of children’s mental health is most important. The recently launched Louis Smith Foundation seeks to do just that. The foundation, which is named after the 15-year-old pupil at the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi who took his own life last year, hopes to set up and staff a round-the-clock, year-round tele­phone helpline for teenagers. In the meantime, we can all join the fight by developing our understanding of mental health problems and by being more willing to break the taboos that surround such complex issues.

Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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