People with mental disorders in Abu Dhabi have limited options for treatment and social stigma towards sufferers. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A lack of licensed mental health professionals, as well as stigma towards psychological health disorders, is holding back thousands of people in the emirate of Abu Dhabi from seeking help for their illnesses.

Only 49 licensed psychiatrists are currently available to treat patients in the emirate for conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other of mood and personality disorders.

At a recent forum in the capital, senior health officials called for better provision of mental health services and greater awareness about the risks of these illnesses, as well as for better insurance coverage geared towards expatriates.

Bridging gaps

"All over the world there are gaps in the provision of mental health services, and we are therefore working to bridge those within the emirate of Abu Dhabi," Dr Amna Al Marzouqi, senior officer for chronic conditions at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi's (HAAD) public health and research department, and project manager of the Abu Dhabi Mental Health Programme, told Gulf News.

Nearly 100,000 residents across the emirate are believed to be suffering from mental health disorders, but only 25,000 of those afflicted get adequate treatment at present.

"People still have a pronounced stigma towards psychological illnesses, or simply fail to understand the seriousness of their conditions and how it can affect their entire lives," Dr Amna explained.

Meanwhile, nearly 450 million people across the world are believed to be suffering from clear mental disorders, said Dr Shekhar Saxena, director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"Mental health disorders are debilitating and they interfere with people's basic rights. However, with proper treatment and long-term care, many patients can recover. This, however, calls for much greater investment into and attention towards the threat of such illnesses," Dr Saxena said at the forum, which was organised by the NYUAD Institute.

To counter these shortfalls, the HAAD hopes to put in place a set of standards by the middle of next year to allow for easier detection, diagnosis and management of mental health disorders.