Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: When 36-year old A .M., (name changed upon request) a CEO of an industrial manufacturing company in Dubai experienced a sudden chest pain, numbness in his right arm and palpitations, he was sure he was having a heart attack.

He was rushed to a hospital’s emergency and subsequently, all tests related to his heart health reported negative.

He returned to work but the attacks recurred thrice over a short period of time.

Eventually, he was hospitalised and with increasingly aggressive and hostile behaviour, he had to be chained to his bed.

His doctors were at their wit’s end — why was A.M., breathless, sweating and palpitating when his ECG was nornal?


A.M., a Kenyan national, eventually lost his cushy job as a CEO. Despairing, he finally contacted a mental health psychologist who diagnosed his case to of panic and anxiety attacks.

Stress test

A stress test corroborated that. With the right medication and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), he recovered completely and found a better job overseas and is reportedly doing very well.”

What happened to A.M. can happen to anyone.

Mental health issues can take an extremely debilitating toll on life, snatching away every chance at normalcy, productivity and harmony and yet, they don’t recieve the kind of exposure they deserve. People continue to battle the stress, turn up for work, afraid to talk about it, much less seek treatment for it.

Very often, people think that it is important to paste a smile on one’s face in order to look well-adjusted and in a truce position with society.”

 - Dr Saliha Afridi | Clinical psychologist


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health difficulties cost the global economy about 1 trillion dollars in lost productivity.

While the world is programmed to focus on physical health and well-being, it is a fact that in the last few decades, mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, have increased multifold and impaired the ability of millions to to function soundly in the work place or home. At work, the management is more likely to give sick leave for a flu rather than for someone who says they are experiening severe stress. At home too, taking a break due to a headache is more acceptable than for feeling low.

Recognising the severe impact of mental health issues and the importance of raising awareness about them, Dubai Health Authority recently adopted a comprehensive mental health strategy as an integral part of the Dubai health strategy 2016-2021. This includes community outreach programmes, hands-on mental health specialists at primary health centres who will help counsel and treat and also remove stigmas and taboos about mental health issues, among other things.

Are you mentally fit?

To be mentally fit means having the ability to live life being fully engaged with it and be able to experience the range of emotions without buckling in, says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director at Light House Arabia. “It is when you can feel balanced (more often than not) and bring your whole self to whatever you are doing in order to fulfil your potential.”

Modern urbanism wherein people live in nuclear units with little or no extended family support results in a variety of behavioural dissonances. Working couples often find their life thrown into a disarray due to everyday setbacks but no one really thinks of reporting sick when peeved with the world.

Most people are compelled to say they are fine and smile even when they are at a breaking point.

“Very often, people think that it is important to paste a smile on one’s face in order to look well-adjusted and in a truce position in society. People misconstrue what is happiness and think that in order to be mentally fit, they have to be ‘happy all the time.’ This puts a lot of pressure on them to have a smile on their face and when they do experience difficult emotions, they begin to think that there is something ‘wrong’ with them. This is NOT the case - the sense of being happy includes feeling sadness, stress, grief, loss, anger, and all the difficult feelings. The only difference is that the people are able to experience the range of emotions but not drown in them. It is not about feeling good, but about getting good at feeling,” explained Dr Afridi.

Triggers for mental dissonance

Situations can be triggered by any inane situation or person. A small incident at work, a person’s low threshold on tolerating an emotional situation, mood swings, . One need not be clinically depressed to create an demotivating atmosphere at home or in the office or in society at large.

All of us will struggle with bad days or lose control at times; however, when this way of being starts to effect your work, and your relationships you need to consider making changes. It is a problem if it’s a problem—and not only when it becomes ‘clinical., says Dr Afridi.

However, not all sudden outbursts or impulsive behaviour can be categorised as a mental disorder. It is only when an individual persistently and consistently displays a kind of pattern in his or behaviour can a certain condition be surmised.”

How to handle mental health issues?

Dealing with a person showing any of the mental health issue is a long-term challenge depending on the severity of the issues, the treatment recommendations would be different, said Dr Afridi.

“Depression, and anxiety have brief, as well as long-term, treatment solutions. The point is that if you feel that you are not living your potential in a certain area of your life, and you feel there is something holding you back — it does not have to stay that way — address it, learn the skills to work through and get to the place where you proud of the life you live,” explained Dr Afridi.

“Mental health need not be perceived as a weakness. People need to reconsider the way they look at mental health and address it as they address their physical health — and take a preventative approach.

People do not know or don’t want to admit that they are stressed, depressed or anxious. Only when problems become a lot worse, and their work and their personal lives start to become dysfunctional, are they ‘forced’ to come in and get help,” said Dr Afridi.