Dubai: Nearly 18 to 20 per cent of the UAE population suffers from some kind of anxiety disorder, an issue that also has a worldwide footprint, say experts. But thanks to education and awareness, the taboo surrounding mental health is fading and, in the UAE, more and more people are seeking professional help.
Dr Padmaraju Varrey, specialist psychiatrist at NMC Speciality Hospital, Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News: “While mental health issues are definitely present in the local population, it is more pronounced in expatriates.
Despite the fact that many expatriates enjoy a comfortable lifestyle here, the separation from loved ones back home and the stress of adjusting to a new country takes its toll.”
Modern urban living, Dr Varrey explained, has led to the dissolution of the joint family system and moved towards nuclear family units. “Now even the nuclear family is being further fragmented as the breadwinner moves to another place to earn a livelihood. In the UAE, many parents send their 18-year olds to study abroad and this too can create separation anxiety and stress.”
Besides, the increasingly competitive nature of modern life has affected people’s ability to retain a relaxed attitude to life, said Dr Varrey.
Nowadays, just having an [educational] degree is not enough, you need to update your skills constantly or there is a fear of being left behind.”
The bar is raised so high that many people suffer from feelings of inadequacy, which is a big source of stress.
Untreated anxiety disorders can result in a loss of quality of life as the patient is unable to enjoy proper rest, shows signs of insomnia, or might suffer eating disorders such as bulimia, slide into a depression, or exhibit manic–depressive patterns, develop phobias and so on.
Common anxiety disorders and symptoms
Top anxiety disorders being reported are: General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorders and social phobias.
Dr Arun Kumar Sharma, Senior neurologist at Medeor 24/7 Hospital, explains: “As the names suggest, GAD is a feeling of heightened stress with inability to get proper sleep with different physiological conditions affecting the body such as trembling, neck tensions, headache, acute fatigue or fibromayalgia.
“In panic disorders, the person undergoes a feeling of sudden panic at the thought of having to cope with a situation. Even a simple thing like catching an early morning flight, or a child’s examination, or any new challenge can set off the panic. This is marked by palpitation, sweating, dryness of throat, muscle spasms.
“In social phobias, the individual feels inadequate while interacting with anyone, be it a neighbour or someone in the elevator.
“It is not as if the individual cannot talk, but he fears that he might not be able to express himself properly or might bungle and that makes him so fearful he begins avoiding such situations. So if he is asked to make a presentation at work, he might feign illness and report sick. Eventually, the individual becomes inhibited and that causes anxiety.”
Dr Sharma added that many people who were unaware of their condition often come to neurologists for treatment.
“A neurologist is usually the interface between psychiatrist and the public as people think their muscle tension or headache or extreme fatigue is due to a neurological disorder. That is the manifestation of the anxiety and, by putting the patient through a structured physiotherapy programme, he is able to ease the tension, but he does need to see a psychiatrist.”
The good news is that 90 per cent of people who come to psychiatrists bounce back to good mental health, said Dr Varrey.
“We use a combination of medication and counselling. Initially, most psychiatrists implement the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This is a method of conditioning the mind not to react with stress or panic to a situation.
“Anxiety disorders have a biological origin and are a result of an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and adrenalin, which results in impaired nerve impulse.”
Both Dr Varrey and Dr Sharma assure that, with proper intervention, therapy and medication, anxiety disorders can be brought under control.