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Sun 18 May 2008 09:49 AM

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A history of silence

The UAE must stop blaming cultural stigma for the country's poor mental health provision, and tackle the issue.

Earlier this year, Medical Times interviewed Professor Sheikh Saoud Abdulla Al Mualla, president of mental health affairs in the United Arab Emirates. Over the course of the interview Al Mualla insisted that the UAE must stop blaming cultural stigma for the country's poor mental health provision.

It was a question of resources, he argued, and it was one the UAE had to tackle head-on.

"In this country, mental health issues are extremely common - we are talking about something that is touching everything," he said.

It will be with a sigh of disappointment, then, that Al Mualla receives the final copy of the Ministry of Health's ‘Health Advertisements Guide'. While the guidelines certainly shine light on what has been a notoriously grey area for the country's private sector, they also prove that stigma is still very much present when it comes to mental health.

Under the new regulations, mental diseases feature as entry 1.(b) under "Restricted Data", which basically prohibits advertising "treatment, recovery from or prevention of" disorders that might be deemed unsavoury to the public.

Sandwiched between "Aids" and "Tattooing", it is clear that mental health is still a subject best swept under the carpet than plastered on walls.

How this policy will impact on mental health treatment and awareness in the UAE is difficult to tell. Clinical data regarding the provision of mental health just does not exist. And even if it does, for now at least, it is filed under taboo.

Vernon Baxter is the assistant editor of Medical Times Middle East.

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