Shortage of doctors and facilities for mental health, FNC hears

An FNC member has called for improved mental health centres and more psychiatrists to cope with the increasing incidence of psychiatric disorders.
Dr Mona Al Bahar told the FNC that there are expatriate psychiatrists but they could pose a cultural problem. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Dr Mona Al Bahar told the FNC that there are expatriate psychiatrists but they could pose a cultural problem. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // An FNC member has called for improved mental health centres and more psychiatrists to cope with the increasing incidence of psychiatric disorders.

Dr Mona Al Bahar (Dubai) painted a grim picture of the state of mental health services.

Dr Al Bahar said studies found that up to 30 per cent of the population was suffering from depression and another 30 per cent from anxiety.

Dr Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Health, said the rise in psychiatric disorders was a worldwide phenomena and the UAE was not suffering in isolation.

He said improvements were being made to Al Amal Hospital in Dubai, the country’s only federal psychiatric institute, and that the first phase would be completed by 2016 at a new location on the Al Ain-Dubai motorway.

Legislation governing psychiatry was in the works.

“This sector sees a big shortage in specialists,” Dr Al Owais said. “We are working on this by supporting doctors and nurses.”

Dr Al Bahar said the ministry did not have one physician specialising in psychiatry abroad.

“Correct me if I am wrong, but in Sharjah there is one doctor who is at the Kuwaiti Hospital,” she said. “That doctor sees 30 to 35 patients a day.

“A psychiatrist needs at least 45 minutes with a patient, not 20 minutes, or else it is like fast food, a McDonald’s.”

Dr Al Bahar said there were no psychiatrists in all of Fujairah.

Al Amal Hospital, she said, had a stigma attached to it because it was built in 1971 next to a prison, and was intended to treat mentally ill inmates.

Dr Al Bahar said mental health statistics in the country did not include disorders among children, inmates or addicts.

“In the UAE there is one Emirati child psychiatrist, although there are many children suffering from mental health problems,” she said. “I have seen them in my field.”

Dr Al Bahar previously worked at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

“We see a lot of cases where the child needs psychiatric help and they don’t know where to go.”

There are expatriate child psychiatrists, she said, but that posed a problem with cultural and national values.

“One child had a problem with sexual orientation. The [expatriate] psychiatrist told him to live his life as he pleased,” Dr Al Bahar said, as council members laughed in amazement.

“One women was depressed so the expat psychiatrist told her to remove her niqab and her headscarf. This has an even bigger effect in shaking a patient than curing them.”

She said the indirect costs of psychiatric disorders would be significantly higher than the direct costs of treatment because the country was losing its human resources.

Although the UAE was racing to outdo other countries in all fields, Dr Al Bahar said it pained her to see it lagging behind when it came to mental health.

“We are ranked at the same position as Yemen, a poor country, and some other African countries,” she said. “This is a hurtful reality to see. One federal hospital for all emirates is not enough.”

The minister agreed with all of the points Dr Al Bahar raised.

“She spoke better than any official on this matter,” Dr Al Owais said. “I add my voice to hers.”

osalem@thenational.ae

Published: November 11, 2014 04:00 AM

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