x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Financial crisis is stretching mental health resources

Expatriate workers who are under stress from the recession and apart from their families are increasingly seeking help for depression problems.

DUBAI // The global recession is stretching the UAE's mental health resources, despite big increases in provision in recent years, experts say. Psychiatrists speaking on the sidelines of a mental health conference here yesterday said the country was to some extent shielded from many of the knock-on effects of redundancy, because expatriates had to leave the country within a month of losing their job.

However, because many expatriates are less able to turn to their friends and family than they might be in their home countries, anecdotal evidence suggests the recession has led to an increase in the number of people seeking help for work-related depression and anxiety, they said. "There are no solid statistics," admitted Dr Hamid Hussein, a general practitioner based in Dubai, "but the impression from speaking to colleagues is that these problems are on the rise.

"It affects both expatriates and locals, but local people are in their own homes and countries with their families around them, so they have only the stress of the financial crisis - I think expatriates also have the stress of being in another country and culture." Dr Ajay Singh, the chief academic officer of the Harvard Medical School Dubai Centre, which organised the conference, called Mental Health Update 2009, said although there was more psychiatric help available in the UAE than in the past, resources were limited.

"I studied in the UK, and there a GP could refer you to marriage counselling and so on very quickly," he said. "Here it is still not as easy. "Here, as in other eastern cultures, people are disinclined to use medicine to treat psychological problems. "They believe in a very strong family structure to help resolve issues - but if that family structure is not available, there are limited resources for counselling and other non-pharmacological solutions, and those resources are being stretched."

He said the rules on residency were likely to mean that jobless expatriates did not remain here long enough to develop chronic mental health problems. "Depression and other problems tend to become a problem in people who have been unemployed for months or years, and here people who are laid off have only got a finite amount of time before they have to leave. "Compare that to Detroit, where factories are shutting down and people face being unemployed for one or two years and having to retrain; they will develop chronic problems that are very difficult to solve and will have a great effect on society in the area."

He said expatriate professionals were likely to face fewer psychological problems than blue-collar workers. "These people are extremely nimble. They came here because they have a skill set that was in high demand, and if they do lose their job here they will be able to adapt to new opportunities elsewhere." Emiratis, on the other hand, were less likely to develop long-term problems, or seek professional counselling, because of high levels of support from their families.

"The local community have very deep family and social structures. They are more likely than expatriates to have people here they can talk to, whether it's parents, brothers, sisters or cousins, so there is informal counselling taking place," Dr Singh said. "For more serious problems there is professional help available, but it may be that the doctors are not local or even Arab, so it may be harder for these professionals to understand the cultural background of their patients."

Prof Rafia Ghubash, the president of the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain, who has worked extensively as a psychiatrist in the UAE, said while the global recession was bound to cause more stress and depression, it might lead to positive changes, too. "I would expect the recession to lead to more mental health issues, and my colleagues tell me they are seeing this. "People have to change their lifestyle. There has been massive change in this country over the last 50 years and there have been positive and negative effects.

"There is good education, good health services, opportunity for people and a high standard of living, but there has also been an effect on social and family networks and people forgetting what is important in life. "It is my pleasure to visit and talk to older people who still get their satisfaction in life from family and good living - for many young people their source of satisfaction is material things and these don't last.

"It is like drinking a cola - you enjoy it quickly and then it is gone." gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae