The existence of depression in our society is no longer a question, it's a fact. And for those who are battling its symptoms in their daily lives, it has become their harsh reality.

Fifty young adults in the UAE between the ages of 15 and 25 were surveyed and given the opportunity to speak up about their experiences with depression. Many were hesitant to express their opinions, but Mazen Yanbeiy and Siham Al Najami were willing to share what they considered one of life's normal challenges.

Twenty-five per cent of those surveyed claimed they did encounter a bout of depression at a certain point in their lives.

"I believe depression is a psychological state of mind caused by having an emotional, mental and social imbalance," said Yanbeiy, 21, who has been battling depression for about six months. "These are due to real life problems and a state of always being mentally preoccupied."

Twenty-two-year-old Siham Al Najami said a major cause of depression is life's growing demands. "Our materialistic society, as well as workplace competition, have a great impact on the way we perceive our lives," she said. "People often do not appreciate what they have and are concerned with what they don't. It is good to have ambitions, but first a person must be satisfied with what they have already achieved."

"The roots of clinical depression are multifaceted," said Dr Hossein Mubarak, a psychiatrist at Zulekha Hospital. "They can be genetic, the result of social influences, physical diseases, economic factors, and biological factors which involve some biochemicals in the brain.

Ahmad Maher Al Ghourani, senior student counsellor at the American University of Sharjah, added: "In many cases, I find it is the result of an individual's maladaption with their surroundings where they are unable to cope with certain environmental stimuli. It may also be the result of situational depression where, for example, one's parents are suffering from chronic depression which in turn affects the person himself."

Family problems

For Yanbeiy, "the major reason for my depression is because of family problems".

He added: "Topped with everything else, I always feel as though I have this void, an emptiness I can't fill."

Al Najami said that the goals one sets for oneself also plays a major role.

"I always had this desire to please others and was a perfectionist at everything I did," she said. "At this point people lose themselves as a sacrifice to always trying to attain what they have formed in their mind as the ideal. This led me to have anxiety attacks and slowly lose motivation to do even the simplest things. I stopped eating and going out until I reached a point where I would just sit in the darkness of my room. This was when my parents realised I really needed help."

Seeking help

When it comes to seeking help, however, 10 per cent of those who claimed they underwent depression considered doing so, while only five per cent actually sought help. All agreed that a taboo exists in this society when it comes to getting help.

Yanbeiy said: "The culture here in general doesn't have the understanding that seeking help from a psychologist is as normal as going to a doctor for a problem."

Al Ghourani explained: "The new generation is more open to the idea of counselling," he said. "We are still going through a transition as a society. Some of us are very traditional, others are extremely open-minded, and some are in between."

Psychologist Anne-Marie Kemp-Scott at the American University of Sharjah added: "Most educated people understand the benefits of professional treatment. They are also aware of the confidentiality that is maintained."

Al Najami provided another example of the negative perceptions of seeking help.

"I finally went to a counselling centre. On the way to and from the office I would meet people who would kindly ask me not to tell anyone that I saw them there. The counsellor himself asked me if it would be okay if he said 'hi' to me in front of others in case we happened to pass each other."


When it comes to treatment, most experts agree that for those diagnosed as clinically depressed, medication with counselling is the best approach.

"Successful treatment consists of psychotherapy and medication," said Kemp-Scott.

Seeking help, however, is only the first step to fighting depression. The second step involves a strong willingness to confront the problem.

"Seek help from a therapist and don't use any kind of medication given to you by friends or relatives," said Dr Mubarak. "Stay away from trouble, avoid coffee, and practise sports and other methods of relaxation."

Both Yanbeiy and Al Najami reported that a radical change in lifestyle was crucial to overcoming the struggles of depression.

Al Najami said: "The first step was going back to school. The second step was to avoid people who had adverse effects on me … . I would keep myself busy, whether it was by reading books or exercising. I also took a step to strengthen my faith."

Yanbeiy said: "I found comfort in disengaging myself from everyone but those who I truly cared to spend time with. When you don't find the right person to talk to, write your thoughts down and don't be ashamed of them
the next day."

Signs of depression

While its causes vary, the major signs of depression seem to be universal.

"The most common indications of depression include mental symptoms, such as low moods, poor appetite, sleep disturbances, irritability, nervousness, crying spells, and suicidal thoughts," said Dr Hossein Mubarak of Zulekha
Hospital. "They also include physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pains, irritable bowel, disturbances of concentration and memory, etc."

The degree and duration of symptoms are important indicators in determining clinical depression.

"According to the DSM-IV, a reference book for therapists, if five or six of the most common symptoms of depression are persistent for over three months, then a person may be diagnosed as clinically depressed," said Ahmad Maher Al Ghourani, senior student counsellor at the American University of Sharjah.

— The writer is a student of the American University of Sharjah