Dubai: When it comes to stress, anxiety and even depression, personal relationships were found to be the leading source behind mental health issues in the GCC, according to the latest findings of this year’s Arab Youth Survey.
You may assume such stress consists of common quarrels with a spouse or family member over lifestyle or cultural differences, money issues, or even traditional family drama.
However, according to Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of Lighthouse Arabia, the trend is due to youth undergoing a “time of transition.”
Transitions are a time of stress because you are in between two ways of being, and I believe that is one of the main reasons why people struggle with relationships — they are just finding their way in ‘the new world.
“The transition is seen from traditional family structures with clear role divisions and extended family or community support, to a modern family system where the roles are shared, technology is prevalent, and unqualified nannies are doing the majority of the childcare,” she explained.
Much of the youth are not able to apply what worked for the parents to their current relationships, and are under a lot of pressure and stress to adjust to the ‘modern family.’
“Transitions are a time of stress because you are in between two ways of being, and I believe that is one of the main reasons why people struggle with relationships — they are just finding their way in ‘the new world’,” said Dr Afridi.
Impacting the transition phase is the prevalent use of technology, which has also resulted in people lacking emotional intelligence. “This is critical in forming relationships with others. Without emotional intelligence, they are not as self-aware, nor are they as able to relate to others,” she said. Personal relationships are followed by job-academic stress, as well as financial stress, which has resulted in many cases of depression and anxiety disorders.
“The majority of our clients are children and adolescents and that’s probably because parents won’t deny their children getting help but they will most likely deny themselves.”
Mental health: a social stigma
Recognising and treating mental health issues in the Arab World is often times viewed as a sign of weakness, as it continues to carry a stigma in society.
Just as physical pain is often an indication of a health problem, conditions such as anxiety and depression are symptoms of mental health issues.
Described as a new “global crisis” of our time, mental health issues are on the rise with one in four people suffering from a mental illness.
The latest findings from a survey confirms the prevalence of a crisis and shows that one in three people know someone who is suffering from mental health issues. The figure rises to 50 per cent when it comes to perceiving mental health illness as ‘negative’. The survey was conducted in 15 countries surveying 3,300 people aged between 18 to 24.
While education on common conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure is widely available, the need to raise awareness about the importance of recognising and identifying mental health issues is desperately needed. In fact, it’s overdue.
How do we change this perception?
According to Dr Afridi, medical communities need to educate, normalise, and treat mental issues.
“Communities in this part of the world are still very close-knit and so ‘what will people say if they find out that I see a psychologist or a psychiatrist’ is still a fear that prevents them from getting support,” said Dr Afridi.
In view of May being considered ‘Mental Health Month,’ she explained that the first step for change is to educate communities by carrying out campaigns that raise awareness about recognising mental illness.
The second is to normalise it by making mental health care as routine and unsensational as physical or dental healthcare.
“People should be doing routine mental wellbeing checks, and looking at the different areas of their life that contribute to wellbeing,” said Dr Afridi.
The third step is letting people know that treatment exists through the public and private sector. The survey findings showed that 54 per cent of youth in the region claim it is difficult to get quality medical care for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in their country.
“Low cost or no cost options of education and treatment should be made available for those who cannot afford the treatment,” said Dr Afridi.
She pointed out that despite the UAE being ahead of many other countries in the GCC, there is still a shortage of qualified mental healthcare providers.
“As someone who has been in the industry for 10 years in the UAE and been running a mental health centre for the last eight years, I believe that the UAE is missing an opportunity to improve the wellbeing of its communities by having blocks in the licensing system,” said Dr Afridi. Along with complicated licensing procedure, expensive business set up and operation cost for mental health clinics are also a factor that has resulted in limited mental health care providers.
What to do if you’re suffering from mental health issues:
■ Take the Mental Health First Aid course: Taking a course is not as threatening as going in for treatment but after learning more about mental illness in this course you might be able to give yourself permission to get support.
■ Go in for a conversation: There are so many fears associated with mental health treatment. People have all sorts of strange ideas as to what it entails and what it looks like so I would recommend booking an appointment with a qualified /recommended therapist and go into the center and see how you feel.
■ Choose yourself: You can either choose to please the judgemental and uninformed people in society or choose to make yourself healthy and well. Don’t be afraid. You deserve to live the life you are meant to live.