Health specialists across the United Arab Emirates have urged residents across the country to seek help if they are suffering from depression and anxiety and utilize the country’s growing mental health support services.
The push in the UAE comes as National Suicide Prevention Month is marked across the globe.
Doctors across the country have said that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a mental health crisis leaving people increasingly fragile and vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and stress.
September is annually recognized as a month to raise awareness about mental health disorders and to promote suicide prevention awareness, but UAE doctors acknowledge this year has greater significance because the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect people in the Emirates and wider world.
Dr. Shaju George, psychiatrist at Medeor Hospital Dubai, told Al Arabiya English the UAE has bolstered the mental health services across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
This includes an Abu Dhabi-based hotline which aims to lend a compassionate ear to those residents finding it hard to cope with the coronavirus outbreak and the knock-on effects on the pandemic.
“The UAE government has also come up with the great initiative of including mental health coverage in all types of insurance policies, even the basic plans,” he added. “This step indicates the government’s proactive approach towards addressing mental health.
“The government has outpatient and inpatient facilities for persons with mental health issues. It is giving out more licenses to address the need for additional resource personnel in the field.”
The doctor said while there are support groups for issues like depression and anxiety in the UAE, these are not as well-established as services in the West.
However, the government is making mental health a country-wide priority, he said.
“Hotlines have been set up during the crisis phase of the pandemic by the government as well as voluntary groups to address the mental health needs of people.”
“Also, one of the most important steps in prioritizing mental health has been the government’s policy changes. By making amendments to the federal law to decriminalize suicide, the government has enabled more people to seek help in addressing their mental health issues.”
Don't suffer in silence
The doctor urged anyone feeling depressed to seek help.
“Mental health professionals are available all around, but you need to reach out to them,” the doctor added. “Hopelessness is a key indicator of someone who’s having suicidal thoughts. If someone expresses hopelessness, find out if they are having such thoughts and get them help.
“Remember that getting the right help at the right time may prevent suicide.”
Dr. Amaka Kate Uzu, a consultant in family medicine at Bareen International Hospital in MBZ City, Abu Dhabi, told Al Arabiya English that there are many resources available to help patients with anxiety and depression.
“It is however important that patients who are concerned about their mood should first see a family physician or psychiatrist for initial evaluation.”
“Available resources include counselling, psychotherapy and appropriate medications.”
Uzu praised a UAE-led mental health drive to lessen the psychological impact COVID-19 has on residents.
In addition to the hotline, the UAE also launched a You Matter campaign, which aims to provide psychological support to people in the country.
“Spearheaded by the UAE National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing, the mental support hotline offers initial psychological counselling and support provided by volunteer mental health experts, specialists, and consultants.”
“This is a very beneficial initiative by the government to support the mental health of vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak, considering the impact this has had on the physical and economic state of the public and their families.”
“Please see a family physician or a psychiatrist for initial medical assessment if you have any concerns related to your mood and speak to close supportive network you may have. Practicing regular exercise, keeping a healthy balanced diet and mindfulness does go a long to help improve the mood and maintain a healthy mental wellbeing.”
The UAE hotline can be contacted on 800 937292.