UAE counsellors help fill gaps in global mental health care

Overwhelmed services supplemented by private telemedicine providers in the Emirates

A primary school pupil in the UK. Children in need of mental health care have been receiving treatment via Zoom from psychiatrists in Dubai. PA
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Remote mental health care provided from the UAE is helping to fill a shortfall in some nations to meet a growing demand for support to address anxiety and depression, experts said.

Children in need of mental health care have been receiving treatment via Zoom from psychiatrists in Dubai due to a lack of services in County Kerry, Ireland.

A report by Ireland's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service found teams delivering vital care were only running at 50 per cent capacity due to missing staff in key areas.

It left the service reliant on telemedicine delivered from the UAE by private providers.

We have observed increasing rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and suicidal thoughts and behaviours among children and teens
Dr Catherine Musa, a clinical psychologist in Dubai

While parents in Ireland have called for a rebuilding of adolescent mental health services, professionals in the UAE said Zoom calls to adult patients had become normal since the pandemic.

Marie Byrne, a professional mental health counsellor from Ireland who lives in Dubai, holds regular Zoom consultations with patients around the world.

“Zoom solved a great deal of crises during the pandemic as there was no other option for counselling at that time, so it was very effective,” she said.

“It is ideal for ongoing counselling, rather than a tool for an immediate crisis intervention, such as a breakdown or suicidal thoughts.

“It has many advantages, such as offering support in the comfort of familiar surroundings at home.

“If a patient is upset, they can immediately process what has happened in somewhere they are comfortable, rather than a clinic. They don’t have to drive or travel anywhere either.”

International services

Ms Byrne specialises in person-centred counselling and has clients in Italy, Australia, the UK and America, as well as across the UAE.

Despite the convenience of remote sessions, a meeting face-to-face helps establish trust, she said.

“Zoom and remote counselling is a good way to continue care,” she said.

“If someone moves to another country, there is already that physical foundation of meeting someone who you can continue to see in online sessions, which is hugely comforting.

“It can be an effective way to deliver support in areas where services may be under resourced.”

A review of global studies assessing the impact of Covid-19 on child and adolescent mental health found reduced physical activity, fear, stress and increased screen time were related to the pandemic.

That manifested in a worldwide increase in anxiety and depression, alongside sleep and eating disorders.

Home isolation, restricted physical activities, limited social interaction and the financial recession made the situation worse for school-aged groups, according to a review of more than 750 scientific papers published in the HCA Healthcare Journal of Medicine.

Dr Catherine Musa, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at the Aspris Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, said demand for adolescent services had increased since Covid-19.

“We know multiple factors have contributed to this exacerbation of mental health and educational issues,” said Dr Musa.

“Social isolation had a major impact on mental health. Children and adolescents were not only experiencing feelings of loneliness but also missed out on opportunities to develop important social skills.

“Social isolation also lead to the increased use of social media and screen time in general which has persisted after the pandemic.

“It created opportunities for bullying and comparisons with peers that contribute to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.

“We have since observed increasing rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and suicidal thoughts and behaviours among children and teens.”

Legacy of anxiety and depression

According to a recent study released by the US Centres for Disease Control, there has been a significant rise in challenging mental health cases in 2020-2021 compared to the past two decades.

In its latest 2023 State of Mental Health in America report, Mental Health America found about 21 per cent of adults reported a mental illness – about 50 million people.

It also reported 2.7 million adolescents experienced “major depression”, with 60 per cent stating they had not received any mental health treatment.

Success has been reported in delivering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a psycho-social intervention that aims to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, remotely via mobile devices.

A pilot study of a Sensa mobile app, which helps manage stress, anxiety and depression, gave comparable results to traditional CBT training, while allowing users to tailor their own experience.

The app sets daily tasks, makes weekly assessments and enables a mood journal to monitor progress.

Of the 381 people who took part, 92 per cent experienced depression, 87 per cent stress and 80 per cent anxiety. After using the application, there was a “statistically significant decrease” in all three conditions.

“Taking care of our mental health takes commitment and effort and is an ongoing practice and process,” said Dr Monisha Vasa, medical adviser at Sensa.

“It is also important to seek care with mental health professionals if you think you might be struggling with depression, anxiety, or just need more support.

“Life is often fast-paced and full of stressors. If we all had quick access to CTB at any time, simply through our phones, it would go a long way towards improving the mental health of millions of people in the US.”

Updated: August 03, 2023, 8:12 AM