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How depression is a family affair

Social pressures have been identified as the biggest factor in bringing on depression among sufferers in the UAE, according to psychiatrists.

ABU DHABI // Social pressures have been identified as the biggest factor in bringing on depression among sufferers in the UAE, according to psychiatrists. Divorce, infertility, the demands of childcare and the strains of marriage can all play their part in contributing to the condition, say medical experts. "Social factors play a huge role in causing clinical depression in this region," said Dr Alaa Haweel, a consultant psychiatrist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC).

"Getting divorced or being labelled a spinster, being unable to have children, pressure from the family, or having too many children and not enough help from the husband are all factors." Speaking at the fifth in a series of public talks on mental health at SKMC, Dr Haweel called depression "the disease of the century". "Between 20-25 per cent of individuals in any society suffer from depression at some point in their lives," he said.

It is more common in those aged 20 to 50, and affects more women than men. "In our society, where the family unit is so prominent, those who are divorced are more likely to fall into a depressed state than in other cultures," he said. Single people are also at risk, but not as much as their western counterparts. "Single people in our culture mostly live with their families instead of moving out and living alone, which helps in preventing depression," he said.

Mohammed Salah, a psychologist and social worker at SKMC, also cited the economic downturn as a cause of depression, especially among men. "Men in this region feel the responsibility of providing for their wives, children and sometimes even extended family, so the pressure of work, or worry about the unstable financial situation, can lead to depression," said Mr Salah. Expatriates who move to the UAE alone are also susceptible, he said.

"People find themselves alone here, with no family or friends to turn to, and at first they are down and listless, but sometimes that can develop into depression." Saad al Khanbashi, a psychologist at SKMC, said depression could be classified into 36 types. "Around five per cent of depressed patients are classified as severely depressed," he said. There is little data on mental health in the UAE - partly due to taboos surrounding the subject, leading many to avoid seeking treatment.

Many say that admitting to depression felt like a weakness, said Dr Haweel. Others fear treatment may be addictive, or they could lose their jobs. "In our society, there are many misconceptions about depression, how to differentiate it from sadness, how to treat it and prevent it," he said. "The faster it is diagnosed, the better, so it does not develop into a chronic problem." hkhalaf@thenational.ae

The most common symptoms of depression are: ? pessimism, sullenness and feeling bored much of the time ? a loss of interest in life or an inability to enjoy and take pleasure in things you once took pleasure in, such as hobbies and interests ? a sudden difficulty in making decisions ? finding difficulty in adapting to changed situations at home or at work ? feeling despair when considering the future ? a loss of self confidence ? constantly blaming oneself ? a loss of appetite for food and a loss of libido, or an increased intake of food (comfort eating) ? insomnia ? avoiding other people, refusing to socialise and preferring to be alone ? feeling extreme fatigue and tiredness for no reason ? entertaining 'black' and suicidal thoughts, or considering death ? physical ailments such as headaches, aches and pains and feelings of worry and tension * Hala Khalaf

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