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It is all about creating awareness

Mental illness has been recognised as a type of disability, so just like people with determination they need to have inclusion programmes. Their situation and limitation has to be taken into account as well. Of course, with any new definition or terminology there is an adjustment period that is required for a community to understand the challenges facing those individuals and ensure their inclusion in society. The same is the case with mental illness in general, and clinical depression specifically.

In the UAE, we do create awareness regarding vulnerable groups. In fact, at the Community Development Authority, we have a short film competition every year that highlights various aspects and social issues that people face. Mental health was one of the categories recently to create the necessary awareness because ultimately, it is all about creating awareness — it is a disease and not something that an individual has control over. As with any disease and any chronic illness, you need to be able to deal with it and with the right treatment the person can live a normal life.

I also do not think that mental illness is underplayed at the moment. There is more awareness, and through our work I have seen a positive shift in attitudes. We have over 200 nationalities living in Dubai, so everyone comes from a different culture. But in general, I do see a positive shift.

From Ms Maitha Al Shamsi
CEO of the Human Rights Sector at the Community Development Authority



Loving support is the best treatment

Clinical depression is generally overlooked by most people in our society. I lost a close relative, who suffered from depression, as he did not get enough help from the family and society, in general. He remained silent for fear of being offended about his predicament. Even with the available therapy and medication it was not eliminated.

What we learnt from this loss was that generally people treat depression like it is a taboo and because it is a mental illness, it is a lot harder to be recognised compared to other diseases. The mistake we made was relying too much on the doctor. Instead, we ought to have helped the patient to come to terms with life’s challenges. It was essential to treat the person, not the depression. In my opinion, people are not educated about mental ill health and its effects on those suffering from issues and how to support them when they need it. Depression is misjudged in our society and people more so from the previous generation thought of it as something of a phase that would go away. It can be mistaken for a sign of weakness and some people would describe depression as sadness, which is only a small part of the illness. Some confuse depression as anxiety, too. Sadness is usually triggered by a hurtful or disappointing event and we have all experienced it and we all will again. But depression is a lot more complex. Loving support is the best treatment. In this intensely competitive society, the main purpose of our lives seems to have become happiness. If you are not happy, there is something wrong. Life can be difficult at times, but we should not become visionless and passionless. Another important aspect I unearthed while researching this subject is that we should thrive in loving relationships and find time to nurture our loved ones and ourselves. Let society know that it is alright to be depressed and seek help for it.

From Mr Yousuf Sait
Manufacturing head in a private company in Dubai



Parents can misunderstand symptoms

I do definitely think it is downplayed but that is because of social stigmas attached to mental illness. It is not easy for families or society to accept what the person is going through. The situation is getting better with all the awareness that is coming into society but it still has to improve a lot more.

Celebrities, and the media as a whole, play a crucial role. Also, conducting awareness workshops in schools, universities and organisations can also help. There are mental health awareness days, where experts come and speak about such issues. It gives people the courage to speak about what they are going through. Then people start opening up.

Family and friends play a huge role as well. Though families take a lot of time to accept the situation, I think today, parents do come to terms with it, especially those in the upper-income group. However, people in the lower- or middle-income group find it a little more difficult, simply because they don’t have knowledge and awareness as to what the illness is. They might think the person is cursed or there is black magic associated with it.

We need to know what the symptoms are to even identify a person’s problem. That is where it becomes very difficult as parents might presume that the child is being lazy or overdramatising it things, wanting to get away from work. They can also sometimes think that the child is incapable of doing certain things, as parents tend to get too harsh. Sometimes parents just need to talk to their children and not hesitate in approaching a professional counsellor.

From Ms Pooja Vishwanathan
PhD researcher at Warwick Medical School specialising in adolescent wellbeing



Suicidal thoughts occur for just a fraction of a second and a lot of lives can be saved if patients are provided the right counselling

I mostly deal with family conflicts and children with mental illness. Depression does seem to be emerging, probably because of more conflicts that children experience. It also depends on the person’s culture and background. A lot of people from the subcontinent, who form 75 per cent of my clientele, do not have proper awareness because of which they are either unable to treat the mental illness correctly or fail to follow up sufficiently.

There are definitely still a lot of misconceptions around mental health issues and even if parents are educated, sometimes they are not ready to accept the problem, may be because of their protective nature or simply because they have not had a history of mental illness in their family.

Also, they might fail to go to the right professional to seek help and get the treatment.

For example, a psychologist can diagnose a case and offer psycho-therapeutic intervention, a psychiatrist can diagnose, prescribe and manage medication and a counsellor can offer psycho-social intervention and counselling. Just this basic information needs to reach everyone so they can approach the right people.

In fact, I have a patient who comes in for counselling and even though he is an adult he still talks about how they went to certain places in India to get treated for black magic. So, a lot of people still don’t approach these issues in a scientific manner.

However, I do see see many parents joining support groups and trying to understand what is happening. So, if they become aware and receive the right information, there is always hope that they will seek the right treatment.

Whenever I take a case history, if I ask a parent whether one of the issues that I can observe is related to something that the child has experienced, they might often say ‘no’. But if I rephrase the question and try to make it more empathetic and understanding, they can often say ‘yes’ when I ask for a correlation. So, even the counsellor needs to know how to get the information out of parents.

Previously, I had a patient suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who was not ready to accept that she had the problem. I tried to counsel her and her parents and referred her to a psychiatrist to get medication. Over time, she calmed down and her suicidal thoughts reduced as well. What people need to understand is that suicidal thoughts usually occur for just a fraction of a second and during that time, if a counsellor or even a family member or friend intervenes correctly, they can come back and you can save many lives.

From Mr Irshad Adam
Mental health counsellor working in Sharjah

Poll question: Do you think clinical depression is downplayed in society?

• Yes 84%
• No 16%