Officials launch Dubai's first inclusive mental health strategy


Mental health is one of the 15 programmes outlined in Dubai Health Strategy 2016-21. However, development of policies in this area are still in the very early stage, with no official statistics regarding the prevalence of mental and behavioural disorders in Dubai available as of early 2019.

One of the most important challenges that the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) faces in terms of data collection is the social stigma that is associated with mental health conditions. Information on the official suicide rate, for example, is not available either at the local or national level.

According to the World Health Organisation, neuropsychiatric disorders were estimated to contribute to 19.9% of the global burden of disease in 2008, while research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research centre at the University of Washington, estimates that deaths caused by mental illness in the UAE increased from 95 to 207 between 2006 and 2016, with the death rate rising to 2.15 in 2016 from 1.77 a decade earlier.

However, awareness of mental health is increasing in the emirate, and efforts are being made to face the challenges associated with disorders. “Demand for mental health services in Dubai has increased in both the public and private sectors” Humaid Al Qutami, director-general at the DHA, told local media outlets in early 2018. “Mood disorders, anxiety, developmental disorders, psychiatric disorders, and behavioural and emotional disorders account for 88% of outpatient diagnosis at DHA facilities.”

Implementing Change

Shortly following Al Qutami’s statements, in April 2018 the DHA announced that it was planning to launch a comprehensive mental health strategy for Dubai, called Happy Lives, Healthy Communities.

According to Dr Nadia Dabbagh, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Rashid Hospital and programme lead for mental health strategy at the DHA, implementation of the scheme will be rolled out under the following four pillars: legislation and governance; promotion, prevention and early intervention; service delivery and final recovery; and patient empowerment programmes.

Guided by these pillars, by 2021 the DHA is expected to launch 10 mental health initiatives. These include: conducting research studies into the mental health sector; reorganising mental health services across the emirate; educating and training medical staff who are working in the field of mental health; encouraging the professional development of mental health professionals; providing mental health assessments and investigations for citizens; establishing rehabilitation programmes for individuals after suicide attempts; setting up support services for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder; developing and implementing a mental health strategy; raising community awareness about mental health; and attracting and retaining professionals in the mental health sector.

Human Capital

One of the most pressing challenges facing the expansion of mental health services and the health sector at large is the ability to attract and retain sufficient levels of qualified medical personnel. According to Dr Yana Korobko, a psychoanalytical expert, who spoke to local media in 2016, there were only 0.3 psychiatrists and 0.51 psychologists per 100,000 UAE residents in that year compared to 173.3 licensed psychologists per 100,000 population in Washington, DC in the US. Indeed, according to industry stateholders, the rising cost of living in the emirate is one factor affecting the health sector workforce. While it is a challenge for the whole economy and not just of the medical sector in particular, the continuous rise in the cost of living in the emirate is making it harder to attract good quality human capital from abroad.

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The Report: Dubai 2019

Health chapter from The Report: Dubai 2019

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