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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Labourers must have proper mental health provision

The country as a whole benefits when those building it are mentally and physically able

Workers involved in labour disputes will be given a card that provides them with food and transportation costs for the duration of their proceedings. Silvia Razgova / The National
Workers involved in labour disputes will be given a card that provides them with food and transportation costs for the duration of their proceedings. Silvia Razgova / The National

It is an invisible killer that is the single biggest trigger of sickness – yet unlike most physical ailments, it is difficult to detect.

Medical experts examining labourers in the UAE found many were suffering from depression and mental health issues but few sought help and some could not put a name to their sickness.

It is perhaps unsurprising how many workers endure mental strain in silence. Caught between familial obligations to dispatch remittances, working long, physically tiring hours and living in often cramped conditions, away from home for months and sometimes years at a time, inevitably takes a toll.

During a recent health awareness drive in Jebel Ali, doctors in the medical wing of Pakistan Association Dubai found depression was a major cause for concern among labourers.

Most had little or no access to psychological support, were sometimes subject to bullying and some were stressed from additional factors beyond their control such as not being paid salaries on time.

Laws introduced by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation penalise employers who fail to pay wages within 10 days of their due date but more can certainly be done to help the mental wellbeing of labourers.

Officials from companies which repeatedly violate the law should be answerable for their actions. But there can also be more psychological help offered by those responsible for the welfare of their workers, whether it is via onsite counsellors or better access to mental health services through insurance provision.

Most workers have little or no access to psychiatric or psychological support through limited insurance packages but are at risk of being overwhelmed by feelings of alienation, loneliness and the burden of financial responsibility after travelling thousands of miles from home and their families.

While depression is a killer affecting more than 300 million people around the globe, according to the World Health Organisation, it is preventable and can be treated.

Looking after one’s mental health goes hand-in-hand with eating, sleeping and exercising better. Awareness campaigns such as that conducted by PAD can help but the responsibility falls to those who carry the burden of care for workers.

They must remember their duty extend to every aspect of labourers' wellbeing. It is not just their long-distance families but the country as a whole that benefits when those who help build it are healthy and mentally and physically able.