Dr Rasha Abbas, a Psychiatry Consultant at HealthPlus Diabetes & Endocrinology Center takes us through the intricacies of anxiety and depression, two of the most common mental health issues in today’s world.
PARTNER CONTENT: Going to a psychiatrist could mean an endless loop of medication and therapy. Depressed kids? Impossible. Only women can have anxiety.
These are just some of the more absurd myths Dr Rasha Abbas, a Psychiatry Consultant at HealthPlus Diabetes & Endocrinology Center and her peers have been attempting to debunk over the years.
Running a weekly clinic at Danat Al Emarat, she has worked for at least a decade in the UAE helping patients struggling with a myriad of mental health issues, including but not limited to depression and anxiety.
And while the stigma and misconception remain, consistent efforts by doctors and social media conversations have helped alleviate it to some extent.
“There has been a huge change over the last decade in the UAE, in terms of increase in awareness and acceptance of mental health troubles. In the very beginning, a lot of people would come without informing the rest of their families. But now families bring in people, saying their sister or child needs help,” she says.
However, there is a still lot of misinformation, with most people confusing depression and anxiety as interchangeable as opposed to closely related. This needs to change quickly, given that at least one in four people would have suffered from one of these conditions in their lifetime globally.
But what is the difference between the two?
“The difference in the symptoms is mainly around whether it is related to mood, in terms of feeling down, or helpless, or in some cases even indifferent,” says Dr Rasha Abbas.
“Sometimes people think that you have to be sad to be depressed, but that is not always the case. The lack of emotional reactivity and loss of interest or enjoyment can in itself present as a symptom of depression.”
“Anxiety has more to do with excessive worry. A little bit of anxiety before an exam, an important event, interviews, etc are normal. But imagine if that feeling of apprehension was there all the time, every day. That is anxiety,” she adds.
Causes And Markers
For both depression and anxiety, familial history could be a major factor. While not genetic, immediate family suffering from either could pose a big risk factor. Social factors ranging from work stress, financial stress, loss, etc. could contribute as well.
From pregnant women to teenagers to older people and more, there is no demographic immune to depression and anxiety. However, an often overlooked yet significant category is people of determination.
“It is more likely than not that within this group of people, depression or anxiety is missed because they are not able to convey their emotions,” Dr Rasha says.
“The people who deal with them should be trained to recognise irregularities. It is very important to observe changes in behaviour in terms of sleep, appetite or aggression. Sometimes there are also physical complaints without any reason. They might complain about abdominal pain, but no reason can be found for it, which is an indicator.”
It Is Curable
While Dr Rasha maintains that anxiety and depression can be treated, there are several parameters to consider. The longevity of the illness, number of risk factors, and prescribed treatment can all contribute to determining the effectiveness and level of ‘cure’.
Evidence further suggests that the sooner one seeks help and treatment, the more likely one is to get better. The duration of untreated illness will have a large impact on the type of recovery you make. At HealthPlus and Danat Al Emarat, Dr Rasha and her team employ an exhaustive process to arrive at a diagnosis.
“The most important tool we have is figuring out the history,” she says. “We need to ask lots of questions to understand risk factors, premorbid functionality, and so on. A comprehensive assessment is very important to reach a formulation of the case. To understand why the person is suffering from these symptoms and why now.”
When it comes to younger patients, a collateral history is taken from the school and parents, as well as some observations. The team then reaches what is known as a formulation following which they alert the patient of the same and work on formulating a plan. The same depends on the severity of the diagnosis, as well as the patient’s preferences, conditions, availability of family to support and so on before finalising.
Medical And Social Assistance
There are different forms of treatment assigned for mild, moderate, or severe cases. Dr Rasha adds: “In general there are two types of treatment to treat patients, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medicines. The way we choose to do it is based on international guidelines, just like any other disease.”
Behavioural Therapy has emerged as one of the more popular talking therapies, allowing counsellors and psychologists to help people understand the relationship between the symptoms they are having and the way they think. Through identifying the thoughts, they are able to analyse and challenge the same.
Apart from medical help, a patient’s place of work or school can be of immense help simply by being more aware. Teachers, co-workers, etc., need to be sensitised to symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as employed with skills to have conversations and create safe spaces for people to express themselves. Given that high-functioning depression is a possibility, it becomes more important than ever to talk more about things and increase awareness of risk factors and available treatments. And more importantly, access to the same.
“Sometimes even if you know you are down, you do not know where to go. If you are aware that things are available locally, you are more likely to seek help. It is also important to clarify that we are not looking to eliminate stress, but rather deal with it better. So teaching people stress or anger management skills, even money management, you would be less likely to be severely affected by stress,” she adds.
Changes in someone’s behaviour, however minor or major, should always be flagged to the appropriate parties. This could be as simple as a child suddenly being agitated or ‘difficult’ at school, or a colleague at work seemingly disinterested in tasks that were previously exciting.
Helmed by Dr Rasha and her team, several government and private organisations have worked actively towards including mental health awareness programmes for their staff. In recent times, the doctor notes an increase in employee support programs and workshops that could further equip people with the right skills. This benefits not just the employee or student, but also the organisations or schools.
“One of the most important things is not to be afraid to talk about it. It is important to learn what to say around people who are struggling. Rather than to give advice or suggestions, it is important to showcase empathy and understanding,” says Dr Rasha.
If you or anyone you know is exhibiting symptoms of mental health issues or is actively suffering from the same, reach out immediately to professionals at hplus.ae or danatalemarat.ae
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