x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Help for expatriates with depression

Seema Hingorrany, a clinical psychologist to some of Bollywood's, has written a guide called Beating the Blues.

Seema Hingorrany says depression is more common than many people realise. Courtesy Random House
Seema Hingorrany says depression is more common than many people realise. Courtesy Random House

According to the World Health Organization, depression rates are on the rise across the globe. In fact, it predicts that within 20 years, more people will be affected by the condition than by any other illness.

The UAE is not immune to this trend, and the Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany has first-hand evidence that expatriates are particularly prone to suffer.

Hingorrany is well known in India as a television pundit and newspaper columnist, with a clientele that includes a number of Bollywood stars. Using her 14 years of experience in the field, she has written a self-help guide called Beating the Blues, which offers valuable advice about how to overcome depression.

Some of her clients are expatriates who work in Gulf countries. Hingorrany says the situation of being away from the comforts of home can exacerbate feelings of melancholy.

"Loneliness is a problem that really can make depression a lot worse," she says. "Back home you have your friends and family to fall back on. In places like Dubai, there is a very competitive atmosphere and maybe people aren't as friendly.

"People work really hard all day, and then they just come home and watch TV or click on the computer. But you really need a human to exchange words with. So I know expats are extremely lonely," she says.

Her advice to these patients is simple: "Rather than just going into their shell, they should go out and make more friends. They should join a gym and talk to people on the treadmill next to them. Or join a book club or do an evening class. Just don't spend too much time alone and dwelling on your thoughts. That's the time when depression hits you really badly."

In India, the rates of the illness are also on the rise, with recent statistics revealing that more than a third of all Indians have experienced a depressive episode at some point in their lives.

Yet within the subcontinent depression remains a much-evaded topic, with people refusing to admit they're suffering from the condition.

"I wouldn't say Indians are more depressed than other nations. I just think that the condition is more stigmatised [there] than it is in the West," she contends.

"The problem is, people are afraid to go and seek help for it because they feel they will be labelled as psychopaths or madmen. You know, some people would rather kill themselves than seek help.

"But I try and make clear in my book that depression can happen to anyone. It is common to be depressed and it's nothing to be ashamed of."

In her book, Hingorrany uses real-life case studies of her clients (with pseudonyms to maintain patient confidentiality) to illustrate this point. She also explains the signs and symptoms of the disease since people are often unaware that they are depressed.

But Hingorrany is insistent that, if properly diagnosed and treated, anyone can beat the blues.

"People can overcome it. It will take time because your mind is a very complex organ of the body. But no matter how low you feel, you should not give up hope," she says.

"There's no reason at all why you shouldn't have a wonderful life."

hberger@thenational.ae