x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Suicidal students in the Middle East need more help: psychologist

During a conference marking World Suicide Prevention Day, doctors note UAE lacks sufficient aid for troubled patients.

ABU DHABI // The Middle East needs resources to help people with suicidal thoughts and tendencies, a psychologist says.

"There is no hotline" for people to call, Dr Muhammed Taher, a consultant child psychologist in Dubai, said yesterday at a conference to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.

"This is a big issue," Dr Taher said. "In one case I could not let a patient go from my clinic. I told him I did not feel comfortable and I had to call family to take him to a psychiatric hospital. We need to work on the resources."

His comments come after a survey recently revealed about 400 students in grades 8, 9 and 10 at UAE government and private schools had seriously considered suicide.

The study was conducted by the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Of 2,581 pupils aged between 13 and 15 who were polled last year, about 325 said they tried to commit suicide at least once in 2010.

The figures were shocking, said Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, the medical director of the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi, which organised the conference.

"I do treat children here who think of suicide and who attempt suicide … but I never expected such a high number," Dr Abou Allaban said.

But he added: "It is no different from data in the West … probably slightly lower but pretty much in the same range."

Suicide is the fourth-leading cause worldwide of death among 10 to 14-year-olds, and the second-highest among those of school-leaving age, Dr Abou Allaban said.

The figures for schoolchildren who had seriously contemplated suicide last year were slightly higher than those recorded in the last GSHS survey, conducted in 2005.

That survey included more than 15,000 pupils in grades 7 to 10.

Neither survey revealed the numbers of children who have committed suicide in the UAE.

Dr Abou Allaban said some families asked him not to release a cause of death in suicide cases. But UAE law demands that anyone who treats a patient who has attempted suicide report it to police or face prosecution.

A person who attempts suicide can be sentenced to six months in jail, a Dh5,000 fine or both.

Dr Abou Allaban said the change in perceptions about suicide had been enormous but the UAE lagged in training for health professionals, public awareness and help for those who needed it.

"Unfortunately, most teachers don't know the basics of mental health issues, let alone suicide risk behaviour training," he said.

The WHO estimates that around the world, about 3,000 people commit suicide every day.

The figures have made one mother of two, Dr Abeer Chakfa, a dentist at Al Rahba hospital, more aware of her children's wellbeing.

"As a parent, I think conversation [is required] with the children," she said. "When you listen to them sometimes you can catch something."

Parents could also observe their children while they watch TV to look for worrying signs, she added.

zalhassani@thenational.ae