Support for chronic illness sufferers

11 percent of the population suffer chronic conditions, but what support is there?

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Jenny Hewett gets the lowdown on new support groups for sufferers of chronic illness in Dubai.

Where sufferers of chronic diseases such as arthritis, epilepsy and diabetes are concerned, it’s often the life sentence associated with an incurable illness that is harder to accept than the condition itself.

According to Dubai-based clinical social worker Dr Jared Alden, roughly 11 percent of the UAE’s population are living with a chronic condition and at least half of us will come down with some kind of chronic disease in our lifetime. Despite the fact that treatment is generally well-catered to in Dubai, there is a considerable lack of emotional and psychological support. However, those suffering in silence now have an opportunity to share their story with others at a new monthly, free support group launched at German Neuroscience Center in Dubai this month.

‘We recognise that there are really very few support groups of any type here in the UAE,’ says Jared. ‘As a healthcare provider, if I say something to a client I know it has some impact. But if you also see someone that you really think of as your peer struggling with the same thing, I think that it has more meaning. It’s very supportive,’ he says.

It’s not all doom and gloom and shirt-sputtering over-sharing as Fight Club will have you believe either. With chronic illness spanning everything from asthma to schizophrenia and chronic allergies, Jared says the hour-long sessions are as informative as they are supportive and he encourages all people affected by chronic illness, including relatives, to attend.

‘The first couple of minutes we will probably focus on education-based things and we might have an expert come into talk about asthma or diabetes. Or we may focus on schizophrenia or Sjogren’s syndrome, which is another chronic auto-immune disease,’ he says. ‘Then we will probably have the rest of that hour focused on what people have learned, advice, questions from other members, and good old chit-chat as well,’ he says. ‘It can be a very serious topic but it actually is a lot of fun. I really expect the participants to walk out lighter, not with a sense of heaviness,’ he says.

In that way, the core focus of the group therapy is to help sufferers realise that they are not alone in their condition. ‘A lot of people with asthma think that they’re one of very few people and they’re not, we know that for sure,’ he says. The groups are about making sure we give good information and allow people to learn from each other. He says the sense of support then comes naturally. ‘It’s a very organic part of that process. If you bring a group of people together under one umbrella, they’re very helpful to each other. So it isn’t something that we have to work very hard to make happen,’ he says.

The first support group was held two weeks ago, in which three people attended from Emirati, GCC and South Asian backgrounds. ‘One of the things that is important to us is that it’s free,’ he says. ‘Know that we’re not expecting people to do anything special or prepare anything or bring money or food, this is something that we feel should be a free product,’ he says. Money can’t buy you love anyway.
Free. Every second Monday of the month at 7pm to 9pm. Booking is essential. German Neuroscience Center, Dubai Healthcare City, Bld. 64, Al Razi, Block A, 2nd floor, Clinic 2006 (04 429 8578).


Three support groups

Breast Friends
Support group for breast cancer patients, survivors and their families. Hosted by Dr Houriya Kazin, the group meets on the third Sunday of the month.
Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 332 7117).

Smoking cessation hotline
Offers over-the-phone support and advice on how to quit smoking.
(800 123 7848).

Still Birth and Neonatal Death Society
Supports those affected by the death of a baby and promotes research to help reduce the loss.
Various locations, www.dubai-sands.org (04 348 2801).

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