The UAE needs legislation and stronger regulation to provide adequate support and care for those suffering from psychological disorders, specialists say. Dr Yousef Allaban, medical director of the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, called for legislation like the UK’s Mental Health Act to protect patients, and for treatment to be covered. “It is well overdue,” Dr Allaban said. “And the fact that insurance companies do not cover mental health is a huge problem.” Great advances have been made in the treatment – both medical and social – of those suffering from psychological disorders, experts say in the fifth and final special report by The National on the future of health care. But there is still so far to go in providing adequate care, support and protection for the rights of those with conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.
Deema Sihweil, clinical director and psychologist at Dubai’s Carbone Clinic, said loopholes in laws were allowing unqualified therapists to practise, putting those with psychological disorders at risk. Dr Sihweil said she had heard of many unqualified people calling themselves psychologists and practising in fields such as consultancy or life-coaching. “This is extremely dangerous. People trust their doctors and many people can be harmed,” she said. All tend to agree that one of the most pressing needs is for more health services and qualified, licensed practitioners. The UAE should pass a mental health act and treatment for psychological disorders should be covered by health insurance, doctors say. Dr Yousef Allaban, medical director at American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said the country would benefit from legislation similar to the Mental Health Act in the UK, which is a code of practice to protect those with mental disorders. “A mental health act is long overdue,” Dr Allaban said. There was also a lack of resources and research, while all insurance plans should include mental health, he added. “The fact that insurance companies do not cover mental health is a huge problem,” Dr Allaban said.
Jared Alden, a psychotherapist at the German Neuroscience Centre in Dubai, agreed. While some schemes may offer mental-health cover, it was ad hoc rather than a uniform rule, said Mr Alden. More awareness about mental health was still needed, even among the medical community, said Dr Allaban. “Many doctors don’t know what the biological basis for a psychological problem is or when to refer a patient to a psychiatrist,” he said. “For example, it is a known fact that 35 to 50 per cent of people who have diabetes suffer from depression at some point. “If one looks at the numbers in this part of the world, it is seen that only a fraction of these people receive treatment.” Other barriers to treating mental health also needed addressing, he said. “There are problems at the regulatory level too,” Dr Allaban said. “Psychologists are classified as clinical psychologists and there are no categories for a neuropsychologist, child psychologist or education psychologist.
“So when people apply there are no categories or classifications. “The medical community needs to be made aware of the importance of mental health. If doctors need to attend at least a certain number of workshops or conferences on mental health they will take psychological health care and problems seriously. “Also, a couple of months of training on mental health should be made part of residency programmes so that people know how to deal with these problems. “Investing in research on mental health will also help to create awareness about this.”