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Dubai: Anxiety disorders, followed by substance abuse, depression, eating disorders and schizophrenia are the top five mental health issues affecting the younger population in the UAE, according to the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation at Global Disease Burden.

But despite efforts to get people to talk about their mental health problems, the associated social stigma still makes them the most under reported condition. On the occasion of World Mental Health Day on October 10, health experts said high stress at work and home, pressures of modern living and financial problems are some of the main triggers for mental health issues. According to them, one in six people suffers from some kind of mental health problem.

Dr Nadia Broker, counselling psychologist at the Priory Well Being Centre, Dubai, said: “Anxiety Disorder is a group of mental disorders characterised by significant feelings of anxiety and fear. These include all kinds of general and social anxieties, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders and even Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD). People need to take stock on their mental health before it spirals out of control.”

One of the triggers for suicides in society is unattended or poorly managed anxiety and depression. Speaking at a two-day suicide prevention workshop at the Zayed University Dubai, Dr Justine Thomas, professor of psychology at the university, said, “Globally, 300 million people suffer from depression. Depression varies in severity, but at the sharp end, it can lead to suicide. Around 800,000 people die due to suicide each year, the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15 and 29.”

How does mental health impact daily life?

While a physiological disease might impact a particular organ, mental health issues can impact an individual’s capacity to function normally.

The ‘disease burden‘ for mental health is measured in Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). This considers not only the mortality associated with a disorder, but also years lived with disability or health burden impacting an individual’s productivity and quality of life.

The UAE government has a mental health strategy in keeping with Vision 2021. In Dubai, the Dubai Health Authority which has aligned itself with the national agenda goals, has announced an eco-system to ensure that the entire population in the emirate has access to high quality mental health care.

Strategies to combat mental health

Dr Broker suggests some definite strategies to manage mental health issues on an everyday basis.

“A checklist on symptoms can helps us acknowledge the early warning signs and coping strategies for our mental health before it wreaks havoc,” she said.

  • * Share your problem: Talking with a friend or relative about the things that are worrying can help to break them down, and find a solution. Keeping worries and concerns ‘locked away’ will only make them worse in the long run. Emotional support can release some of the burden and provide a different perspective.
  • * Reduce consumption of social media: Having unrealistic standards and expectations of body image, eating and exercising are common and social media platforms can create a breeding ground for unhealthy and negative comparisons, resulting in body dissatisfaction, depression, low self-esteem and a tendency to self-harm. Recent studies have shown this is particularly common among young women aged 16-24 years.
  • * Get physical: Hobbies and interests outside of work and college are key. Team sport and exercise can help improve mental wellbeing and increase resilience to mental health problems. Just 20 minutes of exercise in a day can have a dramatic impact on mood and sleep patterns.
  • * Strong emotions are normal. Appreciate how it’s perfectly normal and healthy in our lives to experience strong emotions such as sadness, anger, fear and anxiety. Recognise how these don’t last and how you can do things to manage them, such as watching a funny film, talking things through with friends or family, or exercising.
  • * Everything in moderation: During stressful times, we often turn to things that comfort us and an easy option is food - we tend to either over or under eat, so it’s important to remember the concept of ‘moderation’. It’s crucial to include the main six food groups in our daily diet: protein, carbohydrates, vegetables & fruit, dairy and fats – and also of course some fun foods! If we eat well and regularly, we are better equipped to combat physical and psychological difficulties.
  • * Get enough sleep: Don’t watch TV in bed as it’s generally stimulating for the brain. The same goes for streaming on a laptop or tablet. Charge your phone and devices outside your room, and don’t use the alarm on your phone as an excuse to keep your phone by your bed.

Signs to watch out for

  • Symptom Feeling Behaviour
  • Agitation Reduced levels of enjoyment Poor concentration
  • Irritation Despair and guilt Self-harm
  • Low mood Changes in sleep and eating patterns Headaches
  • Racing thoughts Upset stomach Feeling overwhelmed

Top five mental health issues in the UAE

  • 4.27 per cent of the population suffers from anxiety discorders
  • 2.92 per cent suffer from drug abuse disorders
  • 2.88 per cent suffer from depression
  • 0.81 per cent suffer from bipolar disorder
  • 0.78 per cent suffer from alcohol abuse disorder
  • - Source: Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation of the Global Disease Burden, 1990-2017.