Abu Dhabi: The treatment of psychological conditions is still not given as much importance as other diseases in the UAE in spite of an increasing awareness about metal health among people in the country, warned experts and specialists who met in Abu Dhabi yesterday, and who agreed that women are more prone to mental disorders.
Depression, substance abuse and eating disorders will be discussed at the upcoming two-day medical conference to be held on March 22 and 23. The gathering will focus on raising awareness about mental health conditions that are commonly seen, especially among women, in the Gulf.
Dr Yousuf Abou Al Laban, medical director and consultant psychiatrist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology (ACPN), said the diagnosis and treatment of depression, which is known to be more prevalent among women than men, will be discussed.
“There is still a culture of looking upon mental illnesses as personal weaknesses. But women are very likely to suffer from depression given the multiple roles they play during their lives, as well as biological and social factors. We therefore want to stress that women seek treatment for the condition,” Dr Al Laban said.
Nearly 35 per cent of the 13,000 patients treated by the centre since 2008 suffer from depression. Among them, more than two-thirds are women.
The conference, titled Gulf Women’s Mental Health Conference, will also focus on creating awareness about eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia and obesity, which are characterised by extreme emotions and behaviours surrounding weight, body image and food.
“Nearly 90 per cent of all people who suffer from eating disorders are women. Since we began a treatment programme last year, we have seen about 30 patients. However, we believe there needs to be still greater understanding about these, as very few of our patients approached us on their own,” said Dr Veena Luthra, specialist psychiatrist at the ACPN.
Dr Al Laban also said that the conference, which will see about 100 health care professionals in attendance, will aim to ensure that physicians and other medical professionals refer patients for psychiatric treatment or therapy when required.
“When the centre was first opened, we noticed that very few family and primary care physicians actually referred patients who needed treatment for mental health conditions. Today, nearly 50 per cent of our patients are directed to us, indicating greater awareness about the need to take mental health seriously,” he explained.
According to the doctor, more and more insurance companies are now offering coverage for such conditions.
Another common concern about the treatment of mental illnesses is the scarcity of accurate data on prevalence and incidence. The ACPN will therefore begin to study these issues soon, including how many patients complete the prescribed therapy.
“While this is a problem across most countries, we suspect that there is a greater number of people in the region who are put off by the length of psychiatric treatments and psychotherapy,” Dr Abou Allaban said.