Dubai: Depression and anxiety are the leading forms of mental disorders among residents in the UAE, according to figures from a mental health conference that opened in Dubai on Friday. It’s no less alarming that depression is linked to suicide.

The two disorders affect children as well, with teenagers affected more than younger children, and girls more than boys.

The figures hold true on a global level, said a senior psychiatrist during the First Gulf Women’s Mental Health Conference hosted by the Abu Dhabi-based American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology.

Data collected by the centre in 2012 points to a high number of cases of depression and anxiety. Of approximately 6,000 cases, 2,082 (34.3 per cent) were related to depression and 1,052 (17.35 per cent) to an anxiety disorder.

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Yousuf Abouallaban, consultant psychiatrist and director of American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said there is an ongoing debate among academics on whether the two disorders are related.

“I believe that the two may co-exist and that depression may lead to anxiety or vice-versa. Of the two, depression can be serious, as almost 10 per cent of patients with chronic depression contemplate suicide,” he said.

Of the symptoms Dr Abouallaban said depression can show up in feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness and a persistent low mood. It can also manifest in loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities. “Many experience decreased energy, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Insomnia, early morning awakening or oversleeping is also common,” he said.

Those who suffer from a form of anxiety experience physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms, he said. Anxiety disorders can range from phobias to panic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he added. One feels irritable, impatient, experiences being “on edge” constantly, restless, distracted, constant sense of dread, panic or doom and even physical symptoms like backache, stomach ache, diarrhoea and nausea.

“Anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors including genetics and environmental factors like stress due to finances, work and/or personal life. Anxiety may be due to an underlying medical condition like diabetes and heart disease,” he said. Different causes combine to trigger depression, ranging from stressful events, illness, family history of depression, and alcohol and drugs.

Anxiety and depression can also occur in children, said Dr Veena Luthra, consultant psychiatrist, speaking to Gulf News. Globally, it is estimated that those affected include about two per cent of schoolchildren, six to seven per cent of teenagers and 10 per cent of college students.

“Parents often mistake depression in children and adolescents for moodiness and irritability. It isn’t uncommon for youngsters to be diagnosed with both depression and an anxiety disorder. The causes for both can range from genetics and extrinsic factors like death in the family, abuse, and anxiety associated with separation and body image,” she said.

Dr Luthra advised early diagnosis. “If their perceived ‘low mood’ affects day-to-day functioning, especially at school and in social settings, it could indicate a mental health problem. Female students are more vulnerable because of the hormonal changes.”