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Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, urged greater awareness of mental health in the UAE. Image Credit: Twitter

Abu Dhabi: It is a shame to ignore one’s mental health, and not a shame to face mental health concerns, a top UAE leader said on Sunday.

Speaking at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, urged greater awareness of mental health in the UAE. “In the past, [mental health was considered] taboo and people often considered them to be physical problems. [But we] need to understand that anyone can experience mental health problems. There is no shame in having them; [instead] it is a shame to ignore them,” Sheikh Abdulah said.

Affect everyone

“These concerns could have been initiated by one’s environment, genetics, stress or even society. And they do not only affect the youth. The elderly can suffer from mental health problems too. For example, there is an increase in the number of older people who suffer from memory loss. These issues have to be discussed openly, because we cannot avoid the fact that we are human and can face challenges of any kind,” the Minister urged.

20%

People face mental health challenges, including anxiety, stress and insomnia

Sheikh Abdullah made the call at a session witnessed by more than 13,000 youth in the UAE and abroad. The Majlis is one of the biggest platforms for youth engagement with UAE leaders, and in a post-COVID-19 world ravaged by anxiety and depression, his appeal was especially timely and relevant.

One in every five affected

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Ohoud Al Roumi attributed the prevalence of technology use, the fast pace of life and the social media with contributing to worsening mental health. Image Credit: Supplied

According to the World Health Organisation, at least 20 per cent of the world’s population suffers from mental health concerns, including anxiety, stress and insomnia. Ohoud Al Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Government Development and the Future, recalled the statistic during another Majlis session. “One in every five people in the world suffers from a mental health issue, including anxiety, stress and insomnia, and the majority of these symptoms manifest in children and young people aged 15 to 35 years. That is why we need to protect and maintain our mental health — an integral part of our overall health,” Al Roumi said.

Impact of tech

She attributed the prevalence of technology use, the fast pace of life and the social media with contributing to worsening mental health. “These lead to challenges like anxiety, depression and social isolation and loneliness, which will affect the youth’s productivity and engagement in society,” she explained.

Need for more study

Sheikh Abdulah called for more studies on mental health, including data and statistics that can help resolve the health concerns and their triggers before they get more prevalent.

Dedicated UAE hotlines

Last year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAE launched two hotlines to support residents’ mental health. The service launched by the Frontline Heroes Office catered to frontline professionals, following survey results which showed that 46 per cent of those polled had experienced negative impacts on mental health as a result of the pandemic.

15-35years

Most mental health symptoms manifested by this age group, according to WHO

Another hotline was launched by the Abu Dhabi Department of Community Development to cater to low-skilled workers.

Benefits of being happy

Dr Laurie Santos, professor of psychology and Silliman College head at Yale University, highlighted the special role played by mental health on overall well-being, saying that happier youth tended to experience better job security and higher pays as they aged, and were also more likely to be employed in jobs they liked.

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Dr Laurie Santos, professor of psychology and Silliman College head at Yale University. Image Credit: Supplied

“Happiness also affects immune function, and this is something we should pay attention to right now,” Dr Santos said, referencing a study which found that people with more positive mindsets are less likely to be infected by cold viruses, even when they are exposed in the same manner as those with less positive mindsets.

What to do

Dr Santos mapped out four steps to achieve better mental health.

Opt for regular social connection: People are happier when they are spending time with people, even with physical distancing. So opt for nutritious social time: call a friend and connect in real-time. Or use tech to connect with one another, like a Zoom session with friends.

Be mindful about using tech: Most people pick up the phone on a whim, or because they are bored. But it is important to pay attention to what one is getting out of it. Use the acronym WWW — what for, why now, what else and the opportunity cost of phone use — to decide if the phone use is warranted.

Do more for others: Happier people tend to donate money and do things for others. Focus on others, and use any money you save — such as from avoiding a commute — to donate to a cause. Use any additional free time you have to connect with others or check in on someone.

Be more mindful: Simply following one’s breath for a few minutes a day can reduce neural activity related to mind wandering. So practise more mindfulness, especially as being present can help reduce stress, including even cardiac stress.

Dr Santos recommended the RAIN medication practise for better mindfulness:

Recognise the negative emotion you are experiencing. Is it anger? Am I frustrated?

Allow yourself to tolerate it and just let it be.

Investigate how it makes you feel. Do you feel your chest tighten? Are you experiencing cravings?

Nurture the emotion and care for yourself. Call a friend, cancel a meeting or do something to help yourself.