Coinciding with World Mental Health Day, a new campaign was established by Dubai's Community Development Authority and the Dubai Health Authority in early October. Its aim was to raise awareness among young people about the dangers of an often-ignored subject.
The six-month Mental Health Awareness Campaign is a bold initiative that is promoting the issue of mental suffering and how to treat it. And now it seems that more is being done to advance the treatment of mental diseases in the UAE, reversing a stigma that has too long gone unaddressed. As The National reported yesterday, guidelines on psychiatric health problems, including depression and anxiety, have been introduced by the Ministry of Health to the UAE's primary health centres.
"The guideline is considered a reference to all doctors and technicians who are working in the primary healthcare centres to deal with psychiatric cases, provide early detection and explain ways of treatment," said Dr Mona al Kuwari, the director of primary healthcare central administration at the Ministry of Health.
This acknowledgment of the dangers of mental disease is as welcome as it is overdue. For far too long, patients in the UAE, young and old, have resisted seeing specialists for fear of being labelled unstable.
While places like the US and parts of Europe have embraced mental health treatment, the subject is widely considered taboo in the Middle East. Visits to psychiatrists are almost unheard of in Arab societies. But such a conservative stance is not only unhelpful - it is potentially dangerous as many sufferers shy from receiving legitimate and effective treatment. This can lead people to withdraw from society, or worse.
Currently, general practitioners in the UAE cannot prescribe even the most common of anti-depressants, such as Prozac and Seroxat, and in extreme cases, emergency doctors can only do so one day at a time, a practice that many consider to be pointless.
It is hoped that the new guidelines will facilitate the early detection and treatment of depression and other mental diseases, giving doctors the freedom to treat patients with no fear of stigmatisation.
The UAE is striving to lead the region in the field of general healthcare. By banishing out-dated taboos, it will hopefully lead the way in mental healthcare as well.