Thursday, December 23, 2010

UAE braces for more people diagnosed with mental illnesses

From Gulf News:

DUBAI, UAE -- The number of people with mental health issues and depression is increasing and doctors need to be trained to spot such patients, a senior health official said Dec. 18.

She said these patients come to the primary health centres with different symptoms each time and doctors need to know what signs to look for in order to identify mental problems.

Dr Mona Al Kuwari, director of primary health care at the Ministry of Health, said the reason for the growing numbers is everyday stress, lack of sleep or drug abuse.

“They need to be treated at the centre itself [instead of being sent to tertiary centres],” she said.

Doctors said people suffering from depression often complain of physical problems such as headaches and stomach pains, rather than of a low mood.

They said depression is offset by external and internal stresses, genetic factors and biological changes in the brain.

Mona was speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the First UAE Conference on Mental Health in Primary Care, which has attracted a number of psychiatrists and psychologists from across the Arab World.

When told that there are not enough mental health experts to tackle the growing problem of depression issues in schools and colleges, Mona said it is for this reason doctors at primary health centres are being trained as the first line of defence to relieve the burden on hospitals.

She said the Ministry started with one primary health centre providing care for mental health issues in 2008 and that has grown to 15 centres in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has affirmed that by the year 2020, mental illness will be one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide, said Dr Mahmoud Fikri, executive director of health policies at the health ministry.

He said around 60 per cent of cases could be diagnosed and treated at the primary health care level, but that fewer than 25 per cent of cases diagnosed receive the required treatment.

Dr Hanif Hassan, Minister of Health said the Ministry’s new strategy includes initiatives to provide psychiatric health services in the UAE.