A little-acknowledged fact of modernisation is the impact it has on an individual’s mental reservoir of strength and resilience. As rapid shifts in social and economic momentum buffet our lifestyles, we are less aware than we should be about how these currents affect our feelings and emotions. The World Mental Health Day, marked on October 10, once again reminded us of the need to focus on this field with urgency. In the UAE, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, depression, eating disorders and schizophrenia are the top five mental health issues affecting the younger population, according to the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation at Global Disease Burden. This is a high-grade concern and priority. The younger set is not the only group that is affected. Even among the UAE’s older age groups, mental health problems are prevalent and experts have repeatedly highlighted the need to raise awareness on it.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health issues lead to more than 10 per cent of lost years of healthy life [in an individual] and over 30 per cent of all years lived with disability. The World Economic Forum says depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) every year in lost productivity. Clearly, mental health needs to occupy the same rank as other leading health concerns such as obesity, diabetes and heart health.
The biggest challenge is presented by the need to normalise the conversations about mental health and this can only come about when each family and individual shuns the stigma and gives mental health the dignity, attention and urgency it deserves.
The UAE’s National Policy for the Promotion of Mental Health is undertaking a host of measures to develop, strengthen and expand mental health services for patients of all ages. But what will truly shift the narrative onto positive grounds is a foundational change in attitude among people regarding mental illness, which continues to be stigmatised by many cultures.
When experts talk of the three-pronged approach to treating mental health — educate, normalise, treat — the biggest challenge is presented by the need to normalise the conversations about mental health and this can only come about when each family and individual, irrespective of their cultural background, shuns the stigma and gives mental health the dignity, attention and urgency it deserves. Another way to ensure we don’t carry our burdens of attitude into the future is to make mental health awareness an integral part of early education.
The sooner we disinvest children of the obsolete values of shame and stigma associated with mental health issues, the earlier we will see the changes we desire in society.