Dubai - Teens in UAE need more mental health support: Experts

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - According to the doctor, when a child commits suicide, the entire community at large is at fault.

The suspected suicide cases involving two teenagers - one reported in Umm Al Quwain on Sunday and another in Sharjah on Friday - are highlighting the need for more accessible mental health resources for the youth in the country, experts have said.

Psychiatrists and paediatricians in the UAE stressed that more 'non-judgemental support groups' should be established - urgently. Some have also recommended setting up an emergency suicide prevention hotline exclusively for teenagers, but others say this may not always work because of confidentiality issues.

Dr Sunny Kurian, a Sharjah-based paediatrician and the founder president of the UAE wing of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, said: "Right now, there is an urgent need to raise awareness at every level. From the family to communities and schools, all stakeholders need to understand that some amount of depression is very common at this age."

According to Dr Kurian, the teacher is the best person to identify these issues.

"Large support groups that facilitate non-judgemental, open-ended conversations are also very important."

He said these groups can be built within schools, communities, and among religious circles.

Tackling depression

Doctors and some social workers have said the school community has the biggest responsibility of looking out for warning signs of depression among schoolchildren.

Childhood depression sometimes manifests in psychical ways, said Dr Mohammed Yousef, a specialist psychiatrist at Aster Clinic.

"The symptoms include abdominal pain, body aches, lack of appetite, unusual eating habits, excessive use of mobile and computer," he said.

Some students would also turn to drinking and smoking.

Indian social worker Ashraf Thamarassery said he has helped repatriate over 400 mortal remains to various parts of the world this year - and many of them were suicide cases, including young people.

"Kids are very sensitive at the age of 15, 16. Parents have to be careful before communicating with them. They tend to yell at them for small issues, and parents should not do that. I also notice that social media has played a sizeable role in some of these cases," Thamarassery said

Triggering 'chain reaction'

In this age of social media, "news of suicide can possibly trigger some sort of a chain reaction", Dr Kurian explained.

"It can sometimes create more copy cats because the information is easily accessible. Anything can upset adolescents - an argument with friends, low marks in class, fights with parents. There is a thin line."

According to the doctor, when a child commits suicide, the entire community at large is at fault.

"We have all failed these children as a society because each one of these cases is preventable," he added.

Will hotlines for teens help?

Dr Mohammed Yousef, a specialist psychiatrist at Aster Clinic, told Al Khaleej Today that "a nationwide suicide prevention hotline, specifically for young people, is a good idea".

"The service must be made available in all languages. At present, we don't have such a facility," he said.

However, Dr Kurian said, such hotlines are not always successful as it raises the issue of 'confidentiality'.

"In certain cases, the child is not comfortable to discuss issues with parents; but then the hotline may be duty-bound to involve the family, giving rise to more problems," the doctor explained.

Be on the lookout: Spot signs of depression

>Abdominal pain

>Body aches

>Drastic changes in appetite or weight

>Unusual eating habits

>Excessive use of mobile and computer

>Feeling deep sadness or hopelessness

>Lack of energy.

>Loss of pleasure or interest in activities that once excited the teen

>Anxiety and panic

>Turmoil, worry, and irritability

>Difficulty organising, concentrating, or remembering

>Negative views of life and the world.

>Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep or sleeping too much

>Avoiding friends and family

>Restlessness. The restlessness brought on by depression may lead to behaviors such as fidgeting or acting up in class

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Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for 10 years. She has a keen interest in writing about issues that plague the common person, and will never turn down a human interest story. She completed her Bachelor in Arts in Journalism, Economics, and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves travelling, and Audible is her favourite mobile application. Tweet at her @wordjunkie88

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