The Emirati government is investing considerably in its domestic interests and this is visible in its efforts toward improving its national mental health services to advance mental health in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Reluctancy to Seek Help
Despite the record domestic financial investment, the UAE populace suffers from depression and anxiety disorders. A 2022 study by Gabriel Andrade and others sampled 385 English-speaking individuals in the UAE and drew the conclusion that many of the woes with mental health services in the nation stem from a personal reluctance to seek help largely due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
While services in the country are improving at a record-breaking pace, data suggests that mental health is neglected and that disorders often go untreated simply due to an unwillingness to seek help when needed.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Mental Health Atlas 202o highlights that while the UAE has a “stand-alone policy” for mental health, it lacks one for suicide prevention. The country also has a suicide mortality rate of roughly 5.24%, and while the majority of mental health patients are able to get the care they require at no additional cost to them, must pay at least 20% toward the costs of their medications. It also maintains just two individual, dedicated mental hospitals, though it has 27 psychiatric units within more general hospitals.
Mental Health Challenges in the United Arab Emirates
Mental health in the country faces some self-recognized problems when it comes to improving available mental health services. Notably, an internal review from the National Policy for the Promotion of Mental Health in the UAE identifies that these issues include:
- A lack of unified national policy on mental health. Though there are different authorities working on it, there is “no unified national policy to unify such efforts.” This lack of unified effort also leads to poor communication between those different authorities, furthering difficulties in developing a national response regarding mental health policy.
- There is a lack of financial resources the government directs to mental health services. Specifically, there is no clear budget that it allocates to mental health services.
- Social stigma against mental disorders heavily impedes treatment for psychiatric patients. Recipients of psychological services tend to suffer from a host of discrimination in various aspects of society, especially those such as work and education. This isolation can often further worsen the very mental disorders that psychiatric help hopes to treat.
Even with the associated societal and organizational issues complicating efforts into improving mental health in the United Arab Emirates, the government continues to push efforts to help the situation. It has already implemented and continues to implement a host of initiatives intended to strengthen its mental health care systems within the country. Especially notable examples include:
- A draft law passed in 2021 aims to help improve the rights of mental health care patients. Specifically, it ensures that patients with mental illnesses are to be treated fairly, “with respect and dignity” and enforces privacy protections as well as a more robust understanding of treatment options available to them.
- A partnership in 2019 with the makers of virtual reality headsets Oculus. The ministry intends to use virtual reality technology as an assistant in diagnosing and understanding schizophrenia.
- The establishment of a dedicated mental health program at the Abu Dhabi Public Health Center. The program focuses primarily on promoting domestic community mental health and reducing the self-blame and social stigma around mental illness and associated treatments via community outreach and social service programs.
The Future Potential
The social stigma around mental health and seeking treatments for it remains in the UAE, and with only one mental health center in the nation, it remains difficult for people with mental illnesses to truly find the help they need. However, the nation is putting dedicated effort into improving its mental health services and removing some of the social barriers that continue to prevent access.
– Marc Federici