Are mental health issues prevalent in the UAE? How are they combatted? Omar Al Owais discovers.
Fatima has excelled academically all her life. She graduated from high school and undergraduate school with honors, got married at 21, and is currently pursuing postgraduate studies while balancing raising her daughter with her husband, and attending to the needs of her demanding managerial post.
The reason why she has excessive makeup on is not to attract attention, but rather to deviate attention from the black bags under her eyes. Her smiles and laughter are merely out of obligatory nature; she forgot the sensation of having her laughter fill the room. She has been seeing a healer once a week ever since she gave birth to her two-year-old daughter, however, after two years, her emotions of distress, depression, insomnia and loneliness persist.
While there are no official statistics in the UAE, it is estimated that men to women depression ratio is 1:2. 10-15% of women in the UAE are depressed in comparison to 5-10% of men (Chowdhury, 2011). Untreated depression causes excessive/ lack of sleep, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, chronic aches and pain, sudden weight gain or loss, fatigue and suicidal thoughts (Nazario, 2014). Seeking professional help in the incidence of psychological problems should be considered as a priority because they are often the result of multilateral factors; therefore, the social stigma of professional help should be eliminated.
It is prevalent in this society to firstly seek the counseling of religious clerks (healers) whenever a person suffers from depression or consecutive failings in life. Culturally, it’s often attributed to hasad (the evil eye) or the work of sorcerers. It is rare to consider these conditions as mental disorders due to the negative connotations surrounding the mentally ill. Moreover, professional help from legitimate psychiatrists is often considered as the last resort; it is not sought unless the problem persists. However, by that time itself, without direct psychiatric attention, the condition will severely develop and its implications will be more complicated to heal, consequently making the healing process more complicated.
The result of this reluctance leaves devastating impacts on most aspects of the patient’s life; not affecting just him, but those around him as well. Postponing professional treatment means that for a longer period, one’s family and friends will not be surrounded by the same person they have always known. This will also mean the person will miss out on various opportunities, whether educational, social, or vocational. It will decrease the person’s productivity rates as they are unable to fully invest their mind into their tasks. This will not only complicate him mentally but physically as well. The development of mental illnesses results in chronic migraines and stomach pain, as well as biological changes in the brain.
There is solid evidence from the hadith (traditions containing sayings of the Prophet (PBUH)) that failings in spiritual life and being given the evil eye do result in prolonged periods of sadness and consistent shortcomings in life. Abu Hurayrah has narrated from the Prophet Muhammad PBUH that: “Whenever a Muslim is afflicted by illness, continuous pain, anxiety, grief, injury or by a thorn with which he is pricked. Allah causes this to be atonement for his sins.” It is deeply rooted in Islamic belief that suffering comes to either elevate one’s place in heaven or as a test for patience to decrease one’s sins (Pathan,2009). Nevertheless, it is deeply rooted in Islamic belief that there is a cure for every illness, and as such, one must visit healers as a preventive measure; seeking professional help is of the utmost importance.
In conclusion, it can be said that the stigma surrounding psychological attention to mental conditions is deep rooted within the Emirati society, thus multiplying the implications of the condition on the patient and his surroundings. Additionally, while depression may be the result of evil spirits, Islamic thought encourages getting professional help. The negative stigma in the Arab world associated with treating depression does more harm than good. In order to eliminate this stigma, awareness campaigns can be implemented to the public, and psychiatrists must be present in all educational and work environments to help maintain mental well-being.
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