Is depression a big problem here in Dubai?
Depression is prevalent in the UAE, but for different reasons than in other countries. Depression often stems from work-related problems and the stressful work of expats – in cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular – is not dealt with in the same way as might be the case in expats’ homelands. Another point is, of course, the financial crisis. The reason this causes depression is the loss of control. When people are thinking about things they can’t influence, it induces masses of stress.
So expats are particularly at risk?
Yes. Often separated from family or friends, expats here commonly do not have a social support network, which is essential to reducing stress levels and fending off the onset of chronic stress and depression. The human is a social animal, so when they have a lack of functional relationships, this will induce stress.
Any other risk factors?
Depression is most common between 20 and 35 years of age. It’s the rush hour of life. You have to establish yourself in your job, you have to start a family. People heap pressure upon themselves to make money and achieve success, often not realising the stresses this brings. It causes a huge mixture of problems and challenges. Without support, there’s no relief from this stress. So there’s more risk at this age of getting depressed.
Is it true that depression comes with physical symptoms?
Depression is a real, biological illness. The problem is that most people think, ‘Ah, I’m not depressed, that only happens to weak people,’ you know? Depression is not a disease that happens to weak people. An imbalance of hormones in neurotransmitters is the biological reason for depression. Higher levels of cortisol in the blood, caused by chronic stress, cause a decrease of serotonin in the brain. You can even see it on a special MRI scan.
So what are the physical symptoms?
Loss of concentration, lower back pain, aches in the shoulders and neck. Depression causes dysfunction of the muscles, so then those muscles develop a pain. It’s quite common to have lower back pain. The most striking symptom is change in sleeping pattern. Often, the patient wakes up in the early hours of the morning and they can’t get back to sleep. This is the first goal of treatment – to improve sleep. Other symptoms could be a change in eating pattern, a loss of appetite or increased hunger. Sometimes people gain weight, sometimes people lose weight. It’s different.
What’s the best way to treat depression?
First of all, you have to take it seriously. You have a right to feel depressed; it’s a real, biological illness. The treatment can contain many different solutions – social groups, self help groups, even anti-depressant medicines. Mainly, it’s a re-programming of thinking. At CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) you learn to change your attitude, to change your mind. With depression, you get caught in a cycle of negative thoughts and you have to break out of it.
Depression: The facts
• Depression affects 120 million people worldwide
• More than 2.9 million people are diagnosed with depression at any one time
• Winston Churchill experienced bouts of depression
If you think you might be depressed, contact your local GP for advice. Alternatively, the German Centre for Neurology and Psychiatry in Knowledge Village offers depression tests. Call 04 429 8578 or visit www.gnp-dubai.com.