ABU DHABI: Experts believe that the stresses of modern life, coupled with the prevalence of chronic conditions, have contributed to a rise in the cases of depression in the UAE.

Dr Rasha Abbas (left), consultant psychiatrist and medical director at Camali Clinic for Child and Adult Mental Health, Abu Dhabi, said, “What is worrisome, however, is that these conditions are today seen often among the youth, including school-age children.”

Social media is playing a role in eroding confidence levels in adolescents, and exacerbating young adult insecurities, leading to depression, experts said. In addition, the presence of school counsellors means that symptoms of depression are not missed.

The silver lining is that awareness is on the rise.

“While women are 1.7 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety, more men today are comfortable seeking help, and that is a positive sign,” Dr Abbas said.

Experts highlight psychological problems of the young:

Substance abuse and addiction: “There are rehabilitation centres and cessation clinics [in the UAE], but in a country with a large expatriate population, the cost of access to these services still stands as a major barrier to solving the problem,” explained Dr Abbas.

The types of drug addiction have also become more and more complicated, with new types of drugs surfacing. As always, the problems often begin among youth aged 16 to 25 years.

Dr Dolly Habbal (left),psychologist at Advanced Cure Medical Centre, said the most striking change in addiction-related concerns has been the growing number of women who are dealing with these issues.

“These have largely been driven by marital conflict, social pressures and the increasing pace of life in the region,” she added.

Social phobias: Widespread use of the internet and social media also means that many people fail to adequately develop their communication and social skills, leading to phobias that surface when they eventually join university or the workplace, Dr Habbal said.

She said she regularly comes across young adults who are plagued by an inability to present in front of crowds.

“This is increasingly more in the work environment; unfortunately, many youth fail to understand the value of social interaction until they are forced to tap into it as adults,” she added.

Body image concerns and eating disorders: Like many other mental well-being concerns, body image-related disorders have spiked due to the focus on presenting a perfect image in social media. “Youth today have access to the lives of numerous celebrities and they end up striving to achieve similar lifestyles, and this often leads to concerns like body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia and bulimia,” Dr Abbas explained.

The prevalence of these conditions has always been high among teenagers, but young adults and pre-teens are also grappling with these issues now, she said.

Stress: This is the single most reported concern of mental health professionals, Dr Habbal said.

“Some people are also genetically more prone to mental illness, and stress can often act as a trigger. For instance, high levels of stress routinely make anxiety disorders worse,” Dr Habbal explained. “Whether they are aware of it or not, I believe nearly 80 per cent of adults in the UAE are stressed. Some have a strong social support system to help them through it, but others buckle under the pressure,” Dr Habbal said.