A Challenge Facing Healthcare System In The UAE: Attitude Towards Mental Illnesses

Mental disorders affect around 450 million individuals around the world placing it on one of the most common reasons of illness in the modern time (World Health Organization, 2001). Studies show that treatments to such disorders are available but about two-thirds of patients do not seek help or treatments from doctors due to fear of stigma, discrimination or being neglected (World Health Organisation,2001).

Mental disorders are considered disorders that affect the way an individual thinks, behaves, feels or a combination of these three factors (Parekh,2018). They are caused by physical, physiological, social and environmental causes. Physical causes include misuse of drugs, excessive alcohol consumption, vitamins deficiency or a form of physical injury that builds up to contribute to a mental disorder (Link, Phelan, Bresnahan, Stueve &Pescosolido,1999). Physiological reasons include enduring traumatic events that are current or in the past such as forms of abuse or a life changing events that effect the patient’s emotional state of mind, such as divorce or losing a loved one (Link, Phelan, Bresnahan, Stueve &Pescosolido,1999).

The factors around the individual such as family, social status, employment status are also one of the reasons that may lead to mental illness. For example, high expectations from the society that are above the tolerance of the patient can make them feel pressured to the point of exhaustion and mind instability. Difficulties in such aspects or imbalance in them may pressure the individual's mental health and cause mental illnesses (Link, Phelan, Bresnahan, Stueve &Pescosolido,1999). The field of mental health services has been introduced in the UAE by the mid 1970's, and since then it has spread and developed within the seven Emirates (Sayed,2015). (Haque & Kindi, 2015) state that the health field within the UAE is developing by time but the development rate is limited due to the misconception locals and people from the middle-east have towards seeking help from professionals on their mental health problems.

Many reasons that are social and religious prevent people in the UAE from going to a psychiatrist. People who are considered mentally ill have to live with social stigma as it is seen as a factor that makes the individual devalued and be treated like an outcast (Azhar et Al. , 2015). People that are mentally ill are more likely to be discriminated when seeking for employment opportunities as employers think that they might be dangerous or can act unpredictably. They also have less chances in managing social relationships due to the perspective the society has towards them (Azhar et Al. , 2015). There is a common paradigm in the gulf or between Arabs in general that an individual that is mentally ill does not have strong faith and that leads people to go to a "Mattawa" which is a religious man that uses nonmedical techniques using the Quran or traditional medicine to cure patients by driving the "evil eye" or "evil spirits" away (Sayed,2015). Such phenomena are traditionally believed to take over a person's life or body and lead them to become mentally ill (Sayed, 2015). Traditional ways of treating patients have limited research.

To the majority of the society, admitting to being mentally ill is a weakness. The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country and its people follow their religion closely, but there is no specific instructions in the Quran that state anything about mental health, but it is stated ‘There is no blame on the blind, nor is there blame on the lame, nor is there blame on the sick’ (Al-Fath 48: 17). Mattawas and traditional healers in general do not have any interaction with psychiatrists, so getting them involved in the treatment may reduce the stigma in the society (Sweilam, Watson, Kassem, Clifton, McDonald, Lipski, Deshpande, Mansour, Nimgaonkar, 2014).

Mattawas are the first solution people see when their mental illness symptoms appear. They can be used an effective solution by raising awareness about the importance of seeking help from professionals and send the society the message that there is no shame in getting treated. Another way stigma towards mental illness can be reduced is by showing families how important their support is and can have an effect on the trip to treatment. A survey made in Egypt, which is an Arab country that shares many similarities in tradition and belief with the United Arab Emirates, about a study in the area of psychiatric stigma towards mental illnesses and alcohol abuse and in one of the surveys the Egyptian gave responses that considered that social and environmental support is the most efficient way to overcome these illnesses (Coker, 2005).

In conclusion, the healthcare system is facing many factors that impede development in many ways in the treatment of the mentally ill in the UAE, and the most common factors are stigma, social environment and religious beliefs. Nowadays, many people are aware about what mental health is and what it can do when it is not stable therefore the demands for mental health services has increased enormously according to the number of people that have attended the UAE University counseling asking for therapeutical help compared to the number of people 4 years ago (Sayed, 2015).

18 May 2020
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