Things that can help people take a realistic approach to mental health issues:

Public campaign

A public campaign to raise mental health literacy is a great way to start the conversation, said Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director, Light House Arabia. “There is a lot of stigma around mental health difficulties and having prominent people championing the agenda will help reduce the stigma.”

Mental health literacy

According to the WHO, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Every school, organisation, social group and parent should train themselves in tackling such issues as at the family level.

Dr Afridi added, “At the Light House we have started the ‘Mental Health for Everyone, Everywhere’ initiative and part of that is the Mental Health First Aid, which is the mental health equivalent of physical first aid. Everyone needs to be trained in seeing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendency and other mental health difficulties and be able to approach the person and get them the help they need.”

Better accessibility to treatments

Subsidising some of the costs of mental health treatments would help eliminate barriers to treatment.

“Loss of productivity can come in the form of absenteeism or presenteeism,” said Dr Afridi.

“Absenteeism is when the person is not capable of reporting to work, whereas presenteeism is when the person comes to work but is not functioning well and is mentally absent. They will lose focus, and not be able to pay attention, concentrate, or stay motivated. They will be less engaged, less willing and more disorganised and miss deadlines or make mistakes. This ‘productivity’ will also spill over into their personal life and come in the form of feeling disengaged from the things they enjoy and their close relationships.”

The importance of sick leave for mental health issues

Mohammad Al Hawari, managing director, Takaful Emarat Insurance, explained: “Mental health is a key priority on the UAE’s national health agenda. Over the past few years, awareness and recognition of mental health have increased in the UAE and companies have started offering mental health support services such as confidential helplines to their employees.

Because we cannot see the physical manifestations of depression or stress until it is too late, managers are less likely to grant leave to their employees ...”

 - Mohammad Al Hawari | MD, Takaful Emarat Insurance

“Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health in our society. Because we cannot see the physical manifestations of depression or stress until it is too late, managers are less likely to grant leave to their employees [on these grounds].

“Flu or cough are contagious diseases that can infect the rest of the workforce and so staying out of the office when one is sick with these afflictions is actually beneficial to overall productivity in the short term, as it prevents the entire office from getting sick and being unable to work,” said Al Hawari.

He believes that managers need to be made aware of the long-term adverse effects of depression and stress “in order to see the benefits of allowing their employees time off for mental health and self-care”.

Al Hawari offered suggestions: “First and foremost, we need to raise awareness about mental health and its importance. Recently, it was announced that the UAE will host a global mental health conference in 2022. Initiatives such as these will serve to increase the awareness about mental health in the UAE.

“Secondly, physical fitness is intrinsically linked to mental fitness, and so the UAE government’s initiatives for physical fitness such as (Dubai Crown Prince) Shaikh Hamdan’s 30 minute x 30 days that ran towards the end of last year will also promote mental health.

“And lastly, removing the stigma in society about mental illnesses will encourage the population to check with their doctors regularly.”