Immigrant health: a quarter of migrant workers in UE is clinically depressed

At least 25% of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates are clinically depressed, reveals a study published this month in the Immigrant Minority Health Journal.

Migrant workers comprise 80% of the population of the United Arab Emirates, but there was little research hitherto on their mental health.

Over the last few years, several human rights groups and migrant NGOs voiced concern over labourers  not being treated properly in UAE; this is the first time the claimed correlations between depression, wages and the number of hours worked were scientifically probed.

The study, conducted by the Community Medicine Department of the United Arab Emirates University, aimed to determine the prevalence of depression and suicidal behaviors among male migrant workers in the country.

The cross-sectional survey was carried out between October and November 2008 on 318 male labour camp workers in Al Ain city, who completed translated questionnaires, containing the standard Depression and Anxiety Stress Scale.

The prevalence of clinical depression among the workers was found to be 25.1%.

That figure is unusually high, the report's authors say. In western countries, the rate of depression among immigrant workers is around four to six per cent.

Depression was correlated with physical illness (32%), working in construction industry (41%), earning less than 1,000 UAE Dirham per month (65%), and working more than 8 h a day (68%).

20 out of 261 (7.7%) of the study participants reported thoughts of suicide and 8 out of 265 (3%) had attempted suicide. People with suicidal ideation were more likely to have a physical illness, earn less than 1,000 UAE Dirham per month and work for more than 8 h a day.

The study found the longer the hours labourers worked, the greater the number suffering from depression. The trend was also repeated in salaries.

As reported by, the findings added to the growing collection of studies on the Emirate’s migrant workers.

One such study conducted by the Dubai Police Department found the highest rates of suicide to be amongst Indians and other South Asians, who account for 90% of all suicides in Dubai.

Earlier this year, the Indian consulate released figures saying that in 2010, as many as 110 expatriate Indians committed suicide in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The conclusions corroborated an earlier study examining suicide patterns from 1992-2000, which found male expatriates to be the most likely to take their own lives.

The paper's findings have been to the Ministry of Labor with recommendations to legislate a minimum wage as well as a maximum 8 hour work day.

Researcher Fatima Al Maskari, an associate professor in the department of community medicine at UAE University, said to The National: "We found that having a chronic illness, having a low salary and working long hours were a strong risk factor for having depression and suicidal ideation.

"The salaries for these workers should increase and they should not work more than eight hours a day. Some policies could be changed in relation to these two points. We cannot do anything about physical illness, but definitely we can do something about the salary and work hours."

Correlations between depression, wages and the number of hours worked, confirmed concerns voiced by migrant NGOs in the past.

As long work days and low wages prevail throughout the Gulf, claims, the consequences – as well as the proposed solutions – are likely pertinent across the region.


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