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The cost of keeping the mind healthy

Khaleej Times 2019-10-09 23:26:56

Seeking help for anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues is only the first step. Unfortunately, several patients change their minds even before reaching a therapist's office. Many give up, saying "the treatment is just too expensive".

Even those with excellent health insurance coverage, out-of-pocket expenses are still reportedly high, thus keeping patients away from doctors.

"I had a mental breakdown one day. I didn't realise I was depressed. Also, we come from a conservative family, so going to a doctor for 'mental treatment' automatically meant you are a 'mental patient'," said T.S.

Her husband and close friends, however, pushed her to get help.

"When I called a therapy centre in Dubai, I was shocked to learn it costs Dh850 for the first session and Dh650 for every session after that," she said.

With general insurance and a regular job as a schoolteacher, T.S. could not afford the treatment.

At one point, T.S. went as far as talking to an astrologer and an occultist, hoping to feel better.

After a second breakdown, she reached out to a therapist in Sri Lanka during a short trip back home.

Now, she gets regular treatment via calls.

Insurance coverage

One's psychiatric healthcare coverage largely depends on the insurance company, the level of coverage, and the diagnosis.

Sanjay Kalia, co-founder of Dana Insurance Brokers LLC, said: "While some policies cover psychiatry, psychology or family therapy, the extent to which this is the case varies.

"Most basic insurance plans do not cover mental health issues."

Though treatment costs seem prohibitive, several mental health professionals agree that the perception of receiving psychiatric healthcare in the UAE has changed drastically over the years.

The stigma and the cultural barriers surrounding therapy have been disappearing, prompting the industry to review the existing policies.

Dr Mohammed Yousef, specialist psychiatrist at Aster Clinic, Al Muteena, said that unlike earlier, insurance companies are now accepting payments for psychiatric treatments.

 "I've been practising in the UAE for 25 years. Earlier, there were no provisions for insurance for mental illnesses. However, today, it depends on the status of insurance.

"Sometimes, companies accept to pay for everything from consultations to investigation and medication," said Yousef.

However, there are "very few provisions" for insurance for psychotherapy, "the treatment of mental disorder by psychological rather than medical means", he added.

Gradual change

According to the doctor, the change was very gradual.

"Anxiety and depression are widespread in the UAE now. Among the extreme psychiatric disorders, bi-polar disorder is becoming common among young people, with a few cases of schizophrenia. There are insurance provisions for these disorders," he said.  

Kalia explained that "general insurance policies, as per the Dubai Health Authority mandate, does not cover mental health issues".

However, some companies offer coverage with a cap of $10,000 to cover consultation and treatment.

"As far as my knowledge goes, there is no coverage for psychotherapy," he added. 

HOW MUCH PROFESSIONAL HELP COSTS

1-Dh300-Dh600: Cost for consultation with a psychiatrist, depending on the clinic/hospital

 2-Dh300-Dh850*:Cost for a session with a psychologist in UAE, depending on the psychologist and clinic

(*including registration fees)

3-Dh1,300: Cost of group therapy for 12 sessions

Mental health a priority for UAE

"Mental health is just as important as physical health," said Dr Nadia Dabbagh, consultant psychiatrist at Rashid Hospital, DHA.

"There are many effective interventions available to treat mental illnesses, and we are working on making access to care smoother for patients in the UAE."

Mental wellbeing is one of the key performance indicators and priority areas outlined in the National Agenda of the UAE Vision 2021. The government regularly undertakes new measures to address mental health issues and provide support to those who need it, said Dabbagh. The National Policy for the Promotion of Mental Health, which aims to develop comprehensive mental health services for patients of all ages, is one such measure.

dhanusha@khaleejitmes.com

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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