Mental Health in the United Arab EmiratesOn October 9, 2022, the Department of Community Development of Abu Dhabi (DCD) released a “Parents’ Guide on Mental Health” to commemorate World Mental Health Day. The guide counsels parents on day-to-day stressors, mental health care, interpersonal relationships, lifestyle changes and external pressures on their children’s mental health. This initiative is one of the many steps taken to improve mental health in the United Arab Emirates. Below are some of the UAE’s concerted efforts to expand the conversations around mental health, promote public support services and systems and counter years of stigmatization and silence.

Mental Health in the United Arab Emirates in Numbers

Despite the country’s high-income status, scholars of the UAE have also detected a lack of reporting and a failure to address mental health in their national database. A report by Effective Altruism, NYU Abu Dhabi, which summarizes the data from WHO and the 2019 GBD Report, notes that there are approximately 24,000 cases of mental health disorders in the UAE. It observes that the most prevalent conditions among the population are depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

On the other hand, access to health care workers like psychologists, social workers and occupational and speech therapists is low, with a ratio of 7.5 workers per 100,000 of the population in 2016 (the global median is nine). Notably, feelings of hopelessness and panic have only worsened during the pandemic, as documented in a study by UAE scholars in Frontiers in Psychiatry. According to their analysis, more than one-third of the participants experienced stress from work, home and financial matters during the coronavirus pandemic. Changes like lack of physical activities were also significant factors behind the deteriorating mental well-being of people in quarantine.

The UAE’s Efforts to Mitigate Mental Health Crises

Despite the known stigma around mental health care due to cultural values like masking familial distress in public, privacy, shame or beliefs in destiny, the UAE has implemented several policies to destigmatize and support the improvement of mental health care resources in the country. Some of the most notable initiatives include:

  1. Since 2019, the Ministry of Health and Prevention launched numerous digital resources as part of the “National Policy for the Promotion of Mental Health.” The policy identifies five key strategic objectives to promote awareness of mental health. It guarantees the provision of mental health services to outpatients, the development of mental health units for inpatients in mental health hospitals and the establishment of community mental health services, including outreach services, care, home support services and community rehabilitation.
  2. MOHAP also organized awareness lectures in English and Urdu to raise awareness about mental disorders among Sharjah taxi drivers.
  3. The Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre launched a public mental health program to promote projects and resources for community mental health care and tackle the internalized and social stigma around mental disorders and treatments. It also provides emergency, non-emergency and on-demand confidential psychological support contacts, including a free-of-cost “Estijabah” crisis number.
  4. To advocate for informed quality discourses on mental illnesses and stigma, the Al Jalila Foundation has awarded one-year fellowships to 181 journalists to research, discuss and report on mental health issues.
  5. As a response to the increased stressors during the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources instituted the “Hayat” or Employees Assistance Program, which gave all employees of the federal government access to social and psychological support for their mental and moral health. They provide many communication channels that employees can contact for free consultations or 30% discounts for themselves and their families.
  6. Finally, in 2021, the UAE passed its mental health care draft law which aims to protect the rights and dignity of people who seek mental health care, reduce the negative effects of mental disorders for individuals and society and promote successful rehabilitation of psychiatric patients in the community.

The Road Ahead: Speedbumps and Potentialities

As noted, conversations around mental health in the United Arab Emirates have made huge strides in destigmatizing and propelling a more comprehensive understanding of mental illnesses and the rights of those affected by them. Yet, research has shown that the high cost of mental health services is the next impending barrier for struggling individuals in the country. A German market analyst, Kenkou, noted that the UAE has the second most expensive therapy sessions.

While digital access to mental health support has improved considerably, there is a need for more comprehensive insurance coverage of diagnostic assessments, treatments, psychotherapy and medications. Ultimately, mental health in the United Arab Emirates holds the possibility of going beyond the stereotypes, if it continues to expand its focus on the accessibility of care and dignity of service seekers.

– Saumya Malhotra
Photo: Flickr

10/90 GapThe 10/90 Gap is the idea that 10 percent of the world’s health research potential is devoted to conditions which make up 90 percent of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD). Activists who proposed the 10/90 gap claim that the majority of diseases present in the developing world have been neglected and research for these diseases has been drastically overlooked and underfunded.

As humanitarian issues like poverty and disease make their way into the international spotlight, there is real potential to change the responses to humanitarian crises.

Neglected Diseases

One disease which the World Health Organization claims has been overtly neglected is African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness. The disease is present in 36 sub-Saharan African countries and is transmitted by the bite of a tsetse fly.

These flies are commonly present in rural areas where livestock, such as cattle, are kept in close proximity to humans. People in these rural areas are at the highest risk of contracting sleeping sickness, and these same people are more likely to face poverty and limited access to healthcare.

Outbreak and Epidemic

There have been multiple recorded epidemics of sleeping sickness, the most recent lasting from 1970 to 1990. After the end of this epidemic, efforts from the World Health Organization, national governments and nongovernmental organizations began to show promise that sleeping sickness could be controlled.

From 2000 to 2012, the number of new cases of sleeping sickness decreased by 73 percent, thanks in part to the contributions of the international aid community. In the World Health Organization’s Roadmap of neglected tropical diseases, the goal to eradicate sleeping sickness by the year 2020 was set. This goal is ambitious, but with the help of foreign aid and commitment of a more significant portion of the world’s health research potential, this neglected disease and others can be eradicated.

Make a Change

Sleeping sickness is only one of the many neglected tropical diseases which could be brought to an end with increased support from the international community. The simplest way to promote global health, and help to reduce the effects of the 10/90 Gap is to donate to an organization like the World Health Organization and the nonprofit affiliates they coordinate with on the ground.

The Global Disease Research group works to provide medical assistance in regions of the world where they are least accessible. One of the core ideas of the Global Disease Research group is that medicine should be universally available, and not be determined by politics, religion, race or beliefs. Donating time and resources to groups like this is the easiest way to reduce the discrepancy in global healthcare availability and research.

Tyler Troped

Photo: Flickr