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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Mental health: ‘It evolved into a general apathy for life, a disdain and a lack of interest in living’

American tells of depression that spiralled out of control until he eventually visited a support group in Dubai.

Ansel Johnson, 20, attended the counselling sessions after suffering serious depression. Pawan Singh / The National
Ansel Johnson, 20, attended the counselling sessions after suffering serious depression. Pawan Singh / The National

In another time, Ansel Johnson may never have received the help he desperately needed to overcome the deep depression that hung over him every day of his teenage life.

Now 20, he has turned his life around – and dragged himself up from his lowest point, when he self-medicated with prescription drugs and self-harmed, leaving him scarred for life.

In Sharjah, where he now lives, Mr Johnson is returning to education – as much of his years in high school in the US and UAE were plagued by mental health problems.

“I had bouts of paranoia and long periods of feeling inadequate since I was 13,” he said.

“I grew up with that feeling. I assumed it was teenage angst, so didn’t get any help.

“It got gradually worse, I was feeling low all the time, sinking deeper into this feeling of hating myself.

“It evolved into a general apathy for life, a disdain and a lack of interest in living.”

His problems began to manifest when he reached high school age and began interacting with girls. When he moved to the UAE to attend a private school, the problems worsened due to the lack of integration, he said.

“School was very segregated between boys and girls, so it didn’t encourage normal interaction,” he said.

“It led to a lot of aggression and testosterone, and I became even more lonely.”

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Mr Johnson went back to America after four years in the UAE to continue high school, where his apathy and anger only increased.

There, he began self-medicating with Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders and anxiety caused by depression. Misuse of such habit-forming medicine can cause addiction, overdose, or death.

“I was taking three a day when I was in high school,” he added. “It got to the point where I couldn’t remember the last four months of my senior year.

“I was like a zombie, and would drift between classes and wake up in a haze later in the day with no recollection of what I had done or how I had got there.

“I had done badly in high school and community college, and thought I had no future. That’s when I started self-harming, just to feel something.

“I got very drunk one night and cut my face with a broken glass. The next day I realised I had to get out of that environment.”

In January last year, he returned to the UAE where his aunt was a counsellor who recommended sessions at the German Neuroscience Centre.

“I didn’t want to talk as it made me feel weak but, eventually, I figured out I had to speak to someone about what I was going through,” he said.

“I went to therapy and was diagnosed with ADHD and major depressive disorder.

The group didn’t judge me, but understood me. It helped me to get out of the rut I had been in for years.

“I was lucky my parents supported me, I know there are plenty of people who don’t see this as a real problem but it is more common than people think.”