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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Mental health issues should be treated with kindness and compassion

The litany of creatives who have suffered depression are a reminder of a silent killer

Avicii had a long battle with depression before his death this year / Sean Eriksson
Avicii had a long battle with depression before his death this year / Sean Eriksson

To outsiders, he was a bon vivant who embraced every experience life had to offer, from food and travel to immersing himself in different cultures.

Few could have guessed at the pain Anthony Bourdain must have masked behind closed doors – an anguish that was eventually to claim his life, alone in a hotel room in Alsace, France.

The tragedy of Bourdain’s untimely demise at the age of 61 is not simply that a man attuned to the passions and motivations of so many, who had numerous connections and friendships around the planet, in the end had no one to turn to in his turmoil; it is that he was not alone in suffering from an unseen killer that affects so many people and yet, is rarely discussed openly and without some shame or stigma attached. That needs to change.

These past few weeks alone have seen the tragic loss of not only Bourdain but fashion designer Kate Spade and the Swedish DJ Avicii. In 2016, comedian and actor Robin Williams took his own life after a long bout of depression.

These are not isolated names but just a few among a litany of talented creatives who have succumbed to an illness which affects an estimated one in five people.

Nor is it exclusive to those in the public eye; as Justin Thomas says here, depression is a great leveller, with little regard for wealth or social status.

And as footballer Danny Rose described last week, any change in personal circumstances can have a devastating and debilitating impact on mental health.

There have been great strides made in the UAE in recent years to recognise the catastrophic impact mental health issues can have.

The Dubai Health Strategy 2016 launched a five-year programme to provide high quality mental health care.

Earlier this year, Dubai was chosen as the first Arab city to host a biannual global mental health conference in 2022.

And Al Jalila Foundation in Dubai has prioritised tackling mental health as one of the five biggest menaces in the UAE, alongside heart disease and diabetes.

But it is not simply the responsibility of public and private healthcare professionals to combat an illness that is endemic throughout society.

It behoves us all to extend the hand of compassion and support to anyone who is buckling under pressure.

Even where loved ones are concerned, it can be easy to miss the signs and symptoms of depression or dismiss them as a passing phase.

Kindness, understanding and a listening ear can help those who are suffering – because we never know when we might find ourselves in the same position.