Dubai mental health study highlights shift in attitudes

Emirate-wide study creates dossier that will help doctors to assess need, fine-tune services and challenge taboos.

DUBAI // A major study has taken place to create a picture of mental health in the emirate, assess those at risk and help authorities to decide how to tailor services for patients.

Doctors worked on evaluations at several hospitals and compiled a 200-page dossier for Dubai Health Authority.

A researcher in the study said getting answers from patients was often tough because of the stigma attached to mental health in the UAE.

Doctors said data for Dubai was scarce, but results from a study on depression in women showed rates had halved since the early 1990s.

They fell from 13.7 per cent in 1992 to about 7 per cent today. The rate in men was about 16 per cent today, similar to the global average. There was no data on men from 1992.

Dr Haneen Jarrar, a psychologist at the Dubai Camali Clinic and speaker at the 4th International Child and Family Behavioural Health Conference in Abu Dhabi held last weekend, said improved awareness of mental health was a likely factor in bringing statistics to light.

“We are seeing more clinics and mental health conferences, so hopefully the stigma is getting less. This could be why we are seeing these figures now,” she said.

The Dubai study was carried out at Al Jalila Hospital, Dubai Autism Centre, Dubai Rehabilitation Centre for Disabilities, Latifa Hospital, primary healthcare clinics and Rashid Hospital.

It included two studies with a focus group to assess the mental health of children and adults, and one-to-one interviews with patients.

Dr Muhammad Alam, director of public health and safety and mental health services at DHA, discussed some of the findings during a seminar at the Arab Health Congress.

“Mental health is one of the top priorities at the DHA,” he said. “We need to understand the burden on society and what the common mental health diseases and risk factors in Dubai are. We need to know who is at risk and show what services are available.

“This is the first publication that reveals everything you need to know about mental health in Dubai. It has the challenges, and a way to tackle them.”

The report was completed in December. Until then, a lack of good quality data on mental health meant doctors used the most recent information available.

That included a 2009 household survey and the DHA’s annual statistical report on mortality and morbidity related to mental illnesses.

Information was also gleaned from work conducted by the World Health Organisation on the issue within GCC countries, and other research articles published in medical journals.

Depression in children and adolescents was another area examined.

Dr John Ellen, physician-in-chief at the All Children’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Florida, presented his latest findings, also at Arab Health in Dubai.

He said the signs of depression in young people are different to those in adults.

“Children do, unfortunately, suffer from depression, but it is important to tell the difference between a sad or irritable mood and then behaviour that is affecting their lifestyle,” he said.

Depressive disorders are classified as major depressive disorder (MDD), persistent depressive, premenstrual disorder and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, he said.

Global figures suggested 2 per cent of children suffered from MDD, and 8 per cent of adolescents, predominantly in females.

Dr Alam said researchers faced major challenges, largely due to the stigma attached to mental health.

“It was tough,” he said. “More so because we know there is a stigma for people who may have mental illness to seek help.

“The data we are getting from hospitals is underestimated, as they are missing people who are not seeking help.

“Many people here have a good job but there is another part of the population, such as labourers, who are very different.”

Published: January 31, 2016 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one