Depression most common mental health disorder in young people, Dubai research finds

Emirati teenagers more likely to seek professional help than those of other nationalities

Shot of a young businesswoman looking stressed out in an office. Getty Images
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Depression was the most common mental health disorder among young people using psychiatric services in Dubai, a new research has found.

Specialists from Zayed University, Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital and Rashid Hospital found almost half of those under 20 who attended for professional help were Emiratis. Their average age was 15.

Researchers focused on young people’s understanding of mental health services in a rare UAE-focused study on the issue.

Younger people tend to bounce back quicker than older adults, and it usually takes less time for them to overcome the mental health challenges they face

Retrospective data was collected from Rashid Hospital Child Psychiatry Service and records of patients aged 12 to 19 from 2011-2016 were analysed. The results were published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems.

Of the 99 patients whose records were checked, 47 per cent were Emirati, 22 per cent were from other Middle Eastern countries, 13 per cent were from elsewhere in Asia, 10 per cent were African and the rest were European, American or Australian.

Information collected included demographics, life stressors, duration of symptoms, main diagnosis and presence or absence of psychotic features.

The symptoms of psychosis include delusions, or false beliefs and false perceptions, and hallucinations, or seeing and hearing things that are not real.

Depressive disorder was the most common diagnosis in the sample analysed, followed by bipolar and related disorders, and anxiety.

Schizophrenia, a serious disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally, and other forms of psychosis were also seen in patients.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 13, 2021.  Viktorija Aksionova, CEO and cofounder of Mind Tales.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Nick Webster
Viktorija Aksionova says the MindTales app allows users to monitor their progress and detect mental health warning signs early on. Victor Besa / The National 

Although not involved with the research, counsellor Marie Byrne, who runs a wellness clinic in Dubai, said the study exposed familiar trends.

“The research shows young Emiratis are well equipped to acknowledge their identity and seek help,” she said.

“Peer interaction is very important and we have seen young people struggle when they were unable to do that during periods of the pandemic.

“Younger people tend to bounce back quicker than older adults, and it usually takes less time for them to overcome the mental health challenges they face.

“Typically, they have less emotional baggage and their optimism and hope has not been dimmed by too many disappointments.”

Young people of other nationalities were more likely to report relationships with friends as a source of stress.

Young women were more likely to confide in family members and talk of stressful relationships, and receive a diagnosis of depression.

Poor family relationships led more people to seek professional help, and non-Emirati youths were more likely to discuss concerns with friends, the research found.

The study said more education was needed of young males to show how to spot early signs of poor mental health and how to access help.

In the reports analysed, researchers said the appearance of psychotic symptoms led to faster medical interventions, but the presence of self-harm behaviour or anxiety caused people to delay seeking treatment.

Ms Byrne said parents can spot early warning signs of depression, such as a reluctance to engage in family activities or meals and a desire to spend time alone.

“If a young person does not communicate, that can be a red flag,” she said.

“Younger adults have within themselves the answers to what has triggered their feelings.

“But there is a natural anxiety about performance or being good enough that will always be there in natural self-image issues. It can get in the way of young people.”

MindTales, a tech startup in Abu Dhabi, aims to offer specific mental health solutions for young people.

The company’s app offers mental health support in Arabic and English.

Users can try self-help exercises to unlock mental challenges they face.

The app also offers related games, challenges and self-monitoring options to gain feedback on the progress made.

“The app allows users to monitor their progress and detect mental health warning signs early on,” said Viktorija Aksionova, the company’s chief executive and co-founder.

“For users who are struggling, MindTales provides intervention features to connect them with certified counsellors and coaches.”

MindTales is conducting clinical trials with the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) and universities, including Zayed University and New York University Abu Dhabi, to understand more about the demands of mental health in young people and how they can be addressed.

“Culturally informed digital wellness support systems like this are the next step to revolutionise mental health accessibility amongst the region’s youth,” Ms Aksionova said.

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