People at greater risk of mental illness during festive period, says Dubai psychiatrist

Expats in the UAE are more likely to develop mental health issues as a direct result of them being away from home
By Lubna Hamdan
Tue 19 Dec 2017 09:10 AM

Rampant consumerism during the festive period can cause insecurity and depression, as pressure and competitiveness to buy extravagant presents for friends and loved ones takes the pleasure out of gift-giving, according to Dubai-based psychiatrist Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid at Priory Wellbeing Centre.

While the act of giving is meant to be a fulfilling experience for all parties, people often feel pressure and place emphasis on buying the latest and most lavish gifts, while constantly comparing themselves to friends and colleagues, which can lead to disorders associated with mental ill health, Dr Abdul-Hamid said.

Expats, who account for more than 80% of the UAE’s population, are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues as a direct result of them being away from home. This time of the year also brings feelings that resonate with happy or sad childhood memories, which makes it particularly difficult for expats when they are away from family, loved ones and childhood friends.

“It can generate feelings of sadness and distance for people without family here in the UAE, but also for those expats who do go back home - often this does not work out as planned as they tend to romanticize the return and arrive home with high expectations,” said Dr Abdul-Hamid.

He warned about the dangers of intensifying these feelings through self-medication.

“For people spending [the holidays] alone, it can be a stressful experience that might trigger a depressive episode.  These feelings can be intensified if combined with heavy drinking, as this is in itself a depressant. For those spending Christmas with family, old conflicts might re-emerge and unsaid regrets might be vented after consuming too much drink, and that could lead to an equally stressful time,” he said.

Warning signs to look out for include agitation, irritation, low mood, reduced levels of enjoyment, feelings of despair and guilt and changes in sleep and eating patterns.

Dr Abdul-Hamid urges those with early signs of depression to reach out for professional help.

“It is far better to catch and treat depression early while it is milder and less difficult to treat,” he said.

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