ABU DHABI // Women in the UAE are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety than those in other countries, an expert claims.
A leading psychiatrist has revealed that three quarters of the patients treated at his clinic for depression are women - well above the global average reported by the World Health Organisation.
The body says two thirds of the world's 350 million depression sufferers are female.
Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, medical director and consultant psychiatrist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said 13,000 patients have visited the facility since it opened in 2008.
Of those, 34 per cent have been seeking help for depression - three quarters of them women.
He believes women are three times more likely to suffer from depression than men in the UAE but says social stigma deters them from seeking the help they need.
"Here you have a culture that in general looks at depression and anxiety as a lack of religion and a lack of faith, or a personal weakness," Dr Allaban said. "They are told they have to toughen up and take care of everything."
As women juggle the high demands of family, work and social responsibilities, they become more prone to anxiety and depression but often do not ask for help, he said.
There is also a severe lack of resources and understanding in the medical industry about mental health issues, Dr Allaban said.
"While we are a pioneering country in dealing with health, when it comes to mental health - especially in women - we are still lacking behind what we see in western countries," he said.
"The number of psychiatrists is still well below the international standard, the number of psychologists is below the international standard and the medical community here, in general, are not well trained around different mental health issues.
"Because the subject is still very sensitive, doctors do not know how to treat this condition and how to convey the idea of mental health."
The country is slowly becoming more receptive to the concept of mental health, with some insurance companies now recognising depression. The number of mental health referrals to the centre has also risen steadily.
But a lot more still needs to be done, Dr Allaban said.
The stigma attached to obtaining help needs to be eliminated and people - both patients and those in the medical profession - need to embrace the fact that mental health is just as important as treating other health issues, he said.