x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Maids 'should have psychiatric tests'

Women should undergo tests before taking a stressful job in a foreign country, experts say.

ABU DHABI // Housemaids should be screened for mental illnesses before taking a job in the UAE, and those who suffer a breakdown should have access to medical help, migrant and health experts say.

They say women employed to care for young children or the elderly are taking up a stressful job.

And moving to a new country can be challenging, said Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, the medical director of the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi.

"It is a major stress and can be further complicated by the language barrier or a lack of social support," Dr Abou Allaban said. "These can trigger an illness or cause a relapse of a pre-existing condition."

Dipak Adhikari, the deputy chief of mission at the Nepalese Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said: "Generally they should be medically fit to work. If not, it will be a loss not only for the maid but also the employer."

Before being offered a job in the UAE, Nepalese maids are given a medical check-up. But a maid may suffer physical or mental abuse and become unstable, Mr Adhikari said.

Hannan Hadi, the head of the consular section at the Indonesian Embassy, said Indonesian maids go through physical and psychological exams before moving abroad.

"But I cannot say if these are properly done," Mr Hadi said.

Last March, the embassy repatriated two maids with mental health problems.

Maids have to deal with homesickness, culture shock and work pressure without social support, said Nasser Munder, the labour attache at the Philippine overseas labour office in Abu Dhabi.

"They need all the help they can get," Mr Munder said. "Their mental illness may not be life-threatening, but what if they inflict harm on themselves or someone else?"

An Ethiopian housemaid was sentenced to death by firing squad last year for stabbing her employer's wife 117 times after an argument over iftar preparations in 2010.

She then dragged the woman's body into the bedroom where her two-year-old daughter was sleeping, set fire to the flat and fled.

The maid had been in the country for only 20 days, and had already been dismissed from two other homes in 10 days. She claimed she acted in self-defence as her employer was threatening her.

The death sentence was upheld at the victim's husband's request.

People with mental disorders rarely cause harm, said Dr Abou Allaban.

Part of the problem in the UAE is that people lie about their conditions, fearing that the truth could cause trouble for them.

"We need to educate people, because between 80 and 90 per cent of psychiatric conditions can be treated easily," Dr Abou Allaban said.

A psychiatric evaluation is essential for maids whose duties include looking after children, said Dr Melanie Schlatter, a health psychologist at Well Woman Clinic in Dubai.

"For the safety and welfare of the children they will be in charge of, yes, absolutely," Dr Schlatter said.

"It could be as simple as a screening questionnaire."

Jennifer Caranguian, 30, a housemaid in Al Ain who recently arrived from Manila, had a series of physical and psychological tests in the Philippines. Her psychological test took five minutes, she said. She was asked to draw a tree, a man and a house.

"The doctor also asked me about my childhood," Ms Caranguian said. "It was so easy."

Mr Munder said: "Maids should undergo rigid tests in their home countries to ensure they are mentally sound and fit to handle the pressures of the job.

"We had to send home a maid because she was found to be mentally unstable. She was unable to cope."

Nhel Morona, the spokesman for the Filipino migrant rights group Migrante-UAE, said he was against mandatory psychiatric testing in the Philippines, as the government should instead focus on providing jobs there.

"I think psychiatric tests are impractical," he said, as there is no way of knowing whether a person would break down "when they're away from their families or are being abused by their employers".

rruiz@thenational.ae

zalhassani@thenational.ae