Is The UAE Expat Life Making You Sick?

  • What is the detrimental impact that life as a lonely or disconnected expat, can have here in Dubai?

Expat life in Dubai is seen as an envy for many. However, loneliness or a feeling of being disconnected is a common feeling for a lot of people who move to Dubai from other countries. By all means, what keeps a person well is strong emotional and friendly bonds, close relationships with a tightly knit group. When one moves away to a new country leaving behind friends and family, life can seem to be rather lonely. Despite where you live and how you live, life will throw challenges at you, and tackling them without the support of family may be overwhelming. A lot of times the challenges could be the simplest of everyday issues, but without the support mechanisms, people tend to push their feelings within themselves, until they become a burden.

The feeling of being away from home can, however, cause various mental health issues in people here. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common mental health issues seen among expats in the UAE that can have detrimental impacts on the mental and physical health of an individual.

  • Can you share some inputs about the physical or mental effects of this?

Stress, anxiety, and depression can manifest into various physical and mental health concerns in an individual. These conditions can result in a wide range of physical symptoms like muscle pain, headaches, tension, gastric problems, increased heart rates, insomnia, low energy levels, elevated blood pressure levels etc.

Mental health problems affect the body in various ways and also result in a low sexual drive, irrespective of the gender. Stress leads to weakening of the immune system and makes you more prone to colds and flu. In the case of women, the condition may cause painful periods etc.

The influence of these conditions often slip into one’s personal life, causing other associated mental health issues. A person may get agitated easily and become frustrated with simple things. A stressed or anxious individual will find it difficult to concentrate on a particular job. They may have very poor self-esteem and will tend to avoid people causing relationship problems. They may also find it tough to keep their mind relaxed and focused.

A lot of times, stress and other issues result in people resorting to smoking and drinking which are extremely unhealthy practices and only cause more harm. Smoking may temporarily decrease a person’s stress, but it does not increase a person’s productivity or reduce the problems.

Depression is the result of prolonged periods of anxiety and stress.

  • How does the local landscape breed this issue among expats?

A lot of times, expats come here leaving behind their families, seeking a job and hoping for a better life for themselves and their families. However, the lack of a healthy social life is a major causative factor for issues like loneliness among expats. In their home countries, meeting family and friends regularly would be a tradition where every occasion or holiday would mean a family gathering. However, when they move outside, the first challenge they face is making new friends. Moreover, in a country like Dubai, which is strictly based on a routine with people working 10-12 hours daily, it leaves no time for them to have a social life. Each person is busy in their individual lives, and the weekend calls for some ‘ME’ time.

In addition to this, people face are faced with financial pressure, issues of job security, stress at workplace etc., all of which are contributing factors to making an individual feel disconnected or stressed.

  • In your experience, what are the main challenges faced by people in this regard and how can they overcome the associated problems?

The main challenge with mental health issues is the social stigma associated with conditions like anxiety and depression. There are only a handful of people who seek professional help in the initial stages when it is the easiest to treat and cure the condition. People consider it to be a part of their life and try to get over it through self-medication or turning towards smoking. People need to be made aware that these are health concerns just like a physical health problem. Do not shy away from seeking help and do not live in denial because these problems won’t fix themselves. Know that it is fine to be afraid but also realize that issues like depression and anxiety are absolutely treatable. You do not have to live with them.

There are things that you can do at an individual level to get over feelings like these. We are in a country that accommodates people from all walks of life. In Dubai, you will find people from every other country, people who may share feelings similar to yours.

  • If you have moved to Dubai and have taken up a new job, make the effort to get friendly with your colleagues.
  • Join a gym, go for a swim, these activities will help keep your mind and body fit and healthy.
  • Be social, do not get completely engrossed in work alone. Build relationships that are strong by meeting new people even outside of work.
  • Maintain a healthy balance between your personal and professional life.
  • Do not feel sorry for yourself and sulk about your situation. Do not pity yourself for not having friends or a ‘social life’. Make your presence felt in gatherings and be open to welcoming conversations.
  • What is missing here in Dubai in terms of social support, networks etc.? 

There are various support groups here in the UAE to support mental health conditions. The major concern is that firstly, people are not willing to accept that these are health issues and secondly, given the social stigmas associated with the condition, they do not wish to talk about it. However, there is a minor change we see now with celebrities opening up about mental health issues they suffered now, videos about mental health going viral on the internet etc. Yet the wider section of the society still prefers to not talk about it. Support groups, in fact, are sometimes a part of treatment modalities. People need to be made aware that it is okay to feel low sometimes or experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Moreover, the fact that it is okay to seek professional help.










Dr. Mohammed Yousef

Specialist Psychiatrist

Aster Clinic, Al Muteena (DMPC)


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