When Saleha Thabyan first started working at the Al Amal Hospital in 1983, it was the only on in the Northern Emirates that provided services for the mentally ill. Saleha has been the Director of Al Amal Hospital since 1995, the first national woman to occupy such a position. We sent Reem Mahmoud to Al Amal Hospital to interview her.
What made you choose phycology?
“I was a teacher before I went to university and it was then, while watching the interaction and development of the children I was teaching, that my interest in psychology began. I had, until then, considered a career either as a lawyer or psychologist, but when faced with the choice, I decided to study psychology at Al Ain University, and I am proud to be one of the first to graduate in this field in the UAE.
What kind of treatment does Al Amal Hospital offer?
“We treat most types of mental illness from stress and anxiety, to paranoia with no discrimination in age or nationality.”
Is there a separation between psychiatry and psychology?
“No there is not. The relationship between the two is an important one, as often the treatment of some disorders requires not only a clinical remedy but also an investigation not the circumstances that may have brought them about. We look at the social context if the patient in terms of their family, school or workplace. This enables us to offer a support system to patients in out care to ensure that the clinical treatment is successful. Without this kind of support, a patient can sometimes relapse and show symptoms of their illness when returned to society.”
Saleha believes that although they provide excellent treatment for mental illness, the psychological approach is not the best way to solve some of the problems encountered.
She feels that efforts should be made to inform people at all levels of society about just what is meant by mental illness, and to this end Al Amal Hospital now visits schools to talk to secondary level pupils, in order to try and anticipate future social problems before they arise, by attempting to understand their attitudes. Another part of their job is to try and change their opinion about mental hospitals being homes for “crazy” people, by explaining that everybody might need help at some time. Psychological counseling for instance might give a person a better understanding of what is going on around them and enable individuals to lead more productive lives.”
Do people here understand mental illness?
“Years ago we used to receive people whose mental illness has reached a very advanced stage, because their friends and relatives could not recognize their symptoms as an illness and attributed odd behavior to other reasons. They often resorted to inefficient remedies, such as consulting magicians and charlatans.
Mental illness had not changed, but out willingness and courage to discuss our problems has, which is a marked shift in out attitudes to mental illness.”
What are you ambitions for the mental health service in this country?
“My dream is of a hospital with no beds, whose services are directed to prevention and the speedy recognition of illness, so treatment can begin at a very early stage, with support being given to integrating patients back into their social environment to guarantee full recovery.”
Saleha feels she has been successful in separating her roles of therapist and administrator from each other, and her personal life. Nevertheless there are some difficulties, for some people except her to be knowledgeable about everything and therefore capable of sharing the burden of their worries and problems. She says, “I have learned to separate the worries of my job from my personal life and am now able to refrain from trying to understand and analyze people all the time.”
How has the rapid evolution and development of the United Arab Emirates impacted on the emotional life of its people?
“The materialistic values that dominate society today are corrupting people. Today’s generation suffers from a spiritual and emotional emptiness compared with ours; we had to learn to make sacrifices in order to progress, as we knew that sacrifice and suffering were disciplines for the human soul and that abundance destroys creativity.
Our personalities matured earlier as the absence of wealth and universal education forced us to focus on what we needed to do to achieve our ambitions. If we continue to pursue materialism and let our old values fade, it is likely that we shall see an increase in mental illness in the UAE over the coming years.”