Mental Health Awareness Month: COVID-19 impact on public ‘profound,’ say UAE docs

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The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a mental health crisis leaving people increasingly fragile and vulnerable to depression, anxiety and stress, doctors in the United Arab Emirates have said, as Mental Health Awareness Month is marked across the globe

May is annually recognized as a month to raise awareness about mental health disorders, 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.

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Dr Amaka Kate Uzu, a consultant in family medicine at Bareen International Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the mental health of people across the country.

“This has resulted due to social isolation, losing control of the usual support we have in our lives, loneliness, financial and social consequences, fear of being ill or dying from the virus,” said the doctor. “Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder are some of the mental health illnesses that have increased since the pandemic.”

“We have to remember that fear and anxiety are normal responses to have when we are in a situation like this, but how we manage our thoughts is what will help us get through each day.”

“Also understanding and accepting some things are not within your control will help to balance your emotions.”

Dr Uzu said those suffering from mental health disorders should try and keep their minds stimulated in positive ways and actively choose where to focus their attention.

“Keeping active, healthy eating habits, breathing exercises, connecting with people are all great ways to help keep a stable mental health,” she added. “If you are struggling with your mental health, please speak to a professional who will ensure you get appropriate help.”

Dr Raad Alkhayyat, a consultant psychiatrist at Burjeel Specialty Hospital in Sharjah, said COVID-19 continues to affect lives globally as safety measures stay in force to limit the spread of the virus.

“Being a public health problem, people are still taking precautions which is necessary and mandatory to stay safe,” he said. “People are advised to wear mask and follow physical distancing along with other precautionary measures even after vaccination.”

“All these aspects have put pressure and stress on people which manifests in the form of anxiety and depression with fear and distress.”

Social isolation in the long-term is also an important factor that affects mental state, which needs to be minimized by pursuing activities and hobbies at home or outside, said the consultant.

“People must try and use social media positively by keeping in touch with relatives and friends and give mutual support and reassurance to each other.”

“At the same time, we should be careful to not spend much time following news about the bad effect of the pandemic on people and countries which can increase the fear to the extent of developing ‘Corona-phobia’ and panic, which might need psychiatric intervention.”

Dr Alkhayyat emphasized that people need to understand that the majority of those with COVID-19 are either asymptomatic or experience very mild symptoms.

“At the end people should take comfort in that there should be, sooner or later, an end to this pandemic as the case with all pandemics happened in history and life will resume its vitality.”

Close to one billion people globally have a mental disorder and those with severe mental disorders tend to die 10 -20 years earlier than the general population, according to the World Health Organization.

The Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said a greater focus is needed to make sure people are mentally healthy across the globe.

“As we continue to live through a global pandemic, we need movement on mental health, perhaps more than we have ever needed it before. We need to move for our own mental health, the mental health of our families, friends and colleagues, and more importantly, so that there is a massive increase in investment for mental health services at national and international levels.”

The magnitude of the mental health burden faced around the world is not being matched by the investment it requires, according to the WHO.

The extraordinary increase in mental health needs - with the added challenges of COVID-19 - is taking its toll on an already overburdened and under-resourced mental health service. Countries spend on average only ywo percent of their health budgets on mental health.

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Elisha London, CEO and Founder of United for Global Mental Health, said: “Our world wasn’t set up to respond to the growing mental health needs before COVID-19, and it certainly isn’t now. That’s why now more than ever we need the world to move for mental health, and as individuals, communities, businesses, governments and funders we must prioritize action on, and investment in mental health.”

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