Dr. Abdul-Hamid, you're a trauma psychiatrist and clinical director of Priory in Dubai. What was it that first sparked your interest in this line of work?
Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, described psychological trauma as “an experience which, within a short period of time, presents the mind with an increase of stimulus too powerful to be dealt with or worked off in the normal way”.After the war in Afghanistan, I started seeing veterans in my NHS practice back in the UK. They were discharged from the army suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I had very little to offer these young veterans so I spoke to their army psychiatrist and discovered that all of the army mental health professionals are trained in the trauma therapy, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). I completed the training for this and started a Trauma and Veterans Clinic at my NHS practice, which helped not only the veterans, but many of my other patients with PTSD and other diagnoses.
Psychological trauma helped me to re-examine my psychiatric practice in investigating and treating not merely symptoms of psychiatric disorders but the causes of these disorders. Also, psychological trauma does not only involve war trauma but includes events like childhood neglect and abuse in all of its forms, severe life events and unresolved grief and loss.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
A typical work day at the Priory Wellbeing Centre involves assessing patients to establish diagnoses and causes of their problems, and practising psychotherapy. I believe that psychiatric medication, though helpful, is not enough on its own to ameliorate psychiatric suffering and the combination with psychotherapies could help much more, as medical research has shown. After work, and as I am new to Dubai, I have been spending time exploring this exciting city, its diversity and cultural life.
Priory is new to Dubai – what prompted the decision to open a centre there?
Priory has over 400 facilities in the UK and we wanted to expand our services internationally, selecting Dubai as the first international location. Dubai was selected due to its dynamic nature, innovative vision and ease of starting a business there. It is also a prestigious medical tourism location and market research indicated a need for further providers of mental health services in the region, to support the existing and growing population needs.
What are some of the services and treatments that people can expect from a stay at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai?
The Wellbeing Centre in Dubai is part of the wider Priory network of mental health services of clinics and hospitals based in the UK. The first stage of helping any of our patients is to give them a comprehensive psychiatric assessment that will result in establishing a diagnosis of any disorder and its causes. Then a management plan is discussed with the patient that will usually involve medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.
The Wellbeing Centre can support people with depression, anxiety, stress, family relationship problems, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, young persons’ mental health and personality disorders. Once a referral for admission to one of our many hospitals in the UK is indicated, an arrangement can be set up for the patient to be transferred to one of our excellent hospitals, providing a therapeutic environment that is often set in the lovely countryside of the UK.
In your experience, what are some of the challenges that expats specifically face when living abroad, and how does Priory help people to address these?
Migration for any reason involves challenges associated with the new environment of the host country. Although living in a different country has many advantages, the different language, customs, food, weather etc., can constitute a psychological and physical challenge to the expat that is sometimes described in literature as a “culture shock”. This, in addition to moving away from family and friends in the country of origin, can cause some individuals to experience a level of stress that might prevent enjoyment of the new culture and diversity and can, in some cases, cause psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety (which some recent studies demonstrate are higher in expats), that will require professional help.
The factors that are shown to increase such problems are occupational anxieties, home country worries, difficulty adjusting to the new culture and financial difficulties. Some people might resort to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate which may provide short term relief, but will ultimately make the problem worse in the long run.
Are there any common concerns that people have about spending time in wellbeing centres, and what advice would you give to them?
There is the usual concern of the stigma surrounding mental health that unfortunately can still stop people from seeking early psychological help in order to prevent psychiatric problems from becoming more chronic and complex. Unfortunately, we still see people in the 21st century who think that psychiatric disorders are a weakness and not an illness and this belief can stop them from seeking help in a timely manner. The fear of dependence on psychiatric medication is another concern which is unfounded, as we try to avoid any medication that can cause such dependence and if it is required, it is administered under strict medical supervision, meaning that such problems are rare.
Do you have any general advice for people who are looking to improve their mental wellbeing?
Many of the expats are here for work and it is very important for them to maintain a good work-life balance. If work becomes stressful, a work-life balance helps us to cushion that stress with pleasurable activities, hobbies and being with family and friends.
Talking about your problems with people whom you trust is a scientifically proven solution to problems, including psychological problems. However, if the problem continues despite trying to maintain a good work-life balance, and if it starts to affect work and social functioning, then the expat should not shy away from seeking help from mental health professionals; Priory is here to help in such cases.
Finally, when you're not working, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I am lucky that although I am an expat, I do have family links and relatives who live in nearby countries and the Emirates. I have been able to meet with them and enjoy quality time doing things together and visiting places.
I am also what you would call a ‘book-worm’; I read a lot both in Arabic and English (and a little Spanish). I am hoping that my move to Dubai will inspire me to use what I read over the years to start writing about mental health and other subjects and share that with a wider audience of readers.
You can find out more about the Priory Group's services in the United Arab Emirates on their website.