The Future of Mental Healthcare in the United Arab Emirates

03 Nov 2023

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IBAN: 978-9948-772-17-0

AED 30

The structure and content of this book is based on the first draft of my thesis proposal that was inspired by my first attempt to do a PhD on the topic of “Mental Health in the United Arab Emirates” in 2009 when I applied to the School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University in Australia. A degree that I have not completed due to external circumstances and personal choices that took me towards different career paths and educational endeavors.

My captivation with the topic of Mental Health goes back to when I was thirteen years old and had decided at the time that I wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist when I grow up. Coming from a multi-ethnic background as the son of a German father and an Emirati mother, allowed me to cultivate a unique perspective about what drives individualism and the uniqueness of one’s character. At the time, I was fascinated with that sponge between our ears that makes us tick, the “brain”! I further became interested in the writings of Sigmund Freud and through him; I became interested in mental illness from a psychoanalytic perspective. I was not, at the time, able to differentiate between Neurology, Psychiatry and Psychology although I tend to believe that I have always been a clinician at heart.

As I grew up, I kept on reading different Clinical Psychology textbooks in Arabic. I remember in particular reading for the first time, the work of Dr. Abdel-Sattar Ibrahim titled “Clinical Psychology: Methods of Diagnosis and Psychotherapy”1 that was published in 1988 by “Dar Almareekh for Publishing” in Riyadh, which I read at the age of sixteen. To my surprise, I studied the same textbook during the Clinical Psychology module at my undergraduate studies for the Bachelor of Psychology at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in Al Ain. As I commenced my undergraduate studies, my focus has been on Clinical Psychology. I took every subject that is relevant to my clinical passion and conducted three years of summer and university training in Clinical Psychology and Psychometrics at the New Psychiatric Hospital in Abu Dhabi, currently known as the Behavioral Sciences Pavilion at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, under the direct supervision of three distinguished specialists:

  • Dr. Al Zain Abbas Amara, Consultant Psychiatrist and Director of the NPH.
  • Dr. Faisel Al Zerad, Consultant and Head of Clinical Psychology Unit at the NPH.
  • Dr. Akram Kamal Wilson, Consultant Psychiatrist at the NPH.

Such an early exposure to clinical practice and research during my foundational years, allowed me to have the opportunity to experience Mental Healthcare systems and services from within the field. Yet, after all these years and despite the changes in my career path and the diversity of my research interests, I remain concerned about the challenges that face mental healthcare within the context of the UAE and passionately committed to the advancement of the field at all levels.

The theme of the “World Mental Health Day” for the year 2023 is “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right” in recognition of 75 years of The World Federation for Mental Health, which symbolizes the global efforts for the advocacy and awareness of Mental Health at a global scale.2 Here in the UAE, Mental Health remains a topic that requires further attention and special focus in terms of active advocacy and vibrant engagement to raise public awareness. I would argue that Mental Health systems in the UAE need to be critically addressed and thoroughly investigated in order to develop effective, preventive and recovery-based Mental Health services that can contribute to the strategic vision of the improvement and development of the current health system.

This book is a modest effort in this direction with a specific focus on Mental Healthcare at the federal and local levels as well as at the governmental and private levels. Thus, I have attempted to provide a systemic analysis and perform a critical examination of Mental Health systems and services in the UAE in order to map current challenges and develop future prospects for the improvement of mental healthcare. It is, nonetheless, an effort to capture the essence of the current status of Mental Healthcare in the UAE and trying to take it to the next level by addressing several key questions such as:

  1. What is the status of the Mental Healthcare sector in comparison to other health care sectors in the UAE?
  2. How can we improve existing Mental Healthcare systems and services in the UAE?
  3. How can we improve international collaboration between the UAE and the international community in relation to Mental Healthcare?

These broad questions represent the core direction of the book but it is not limited to them. The topic is big in scale and one can generate questions that can cover a wide variety of aspects that might be of interest and/or concern. Moreover, the book will seek to close the gap in information on Mental Healthcare in the UAE and provide an alternative perspective on its improvement and development.

It has been said that “there is no health without mental health.”3 This is particularly true in the case of the ambitious plans to improve and develop health systems in the UAE. There is no doubt, that the UAE has placed “health” as one of its top developmental priorities. However, the need for more attention and integration between health systems and Mental Health systems is necessary. Thus, it is my hope that this book will serve as a very humble contribution to UAE’s endless efforts to provide the best healthcare systems and services available and that it will constructively influence the advancement and flourishment of the Mental Healthcare sector in the benefit of patients, practitioners, researchers, and policy makers.