‘We’ve been to hell and back’

... and we don’t want other fam­i­lies to go through it. More must be done to help chil­dren with men­tal health is­sues, par­ents say

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Ma­hak Man­nan @Ma­hakLFC

Anne Walker will never for­get the day her eight-year-old son was phys­i­cally re­strained and strapped to a hos­pi­tal bed for three hours.

Or the day Ethan, now 10, turned to her and said: “I want to die.”

The Bri­tish ex­pat is one of two moth­ers who have shared their sto­ries with 7DAYS in the hope of high­light­ing what they feel is a lack of sup­port for chil­dren with men­tal health is­sues in the UAE.

Anne and her hus­band Scott spent hun­dreds of thou­sands of dirhams seek­ing the right di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment for their son. It took three years to get clar­ity about his con­di­tion.

Now, af­ter fi­nally be­ing di­ag­nosed with an anx­i­ety dis­or­der, Ethan has had suc­cess­ful treat­ment at the Beth­lem Royal Hos­pi­tal and Maud­s­ley Clinic in Lon­don, and is back on the right track with his fam­ily in Abu Dhabi. But, the jour­ney has been trau­matic.

Anne be­lieves much of that trauma could have been avoided if there had been pro­fes­sion­als and fa­cil­i­ties bet­ter equipped to di­ag­nose and treat Ethan in the UAE.

She told 7DAYS: “When Ethan was six he started show­ing signs of de­pres­sion and stopped go­ing to school, af­ter which he started see­ing many dif­fer­ent doc­tors. None of them had any an­swers for us.

“We took him to one hos­pi­tal and medics there had lit­tle idea how to han­dle him. He was so dis­tressed, they de­cided to re­strain him - the old-fash­ioned way.

“They strapped him to a bed with belts and gave him medicine to calm him down.”

That heart­break­ing in­ci­dent was just one of many that the fam­ily en­dured and now they at­tend and help out with a sup­port group for fam­i­lies in the UAE strug­gling with men­tal health is­sues.

Founder Lisa Bar­foot-Smith set up the group af­ter her 15-year-old son, Louis, took his own life.


Doc­tors pre­scribed Ethan Walker anti-de­pres­sants with­out ever see­ing him, hand­ing them over to his par­ents af­ter a brief meet­ing. Oth­ers charged Dhs1,600 per hour but ap­peared to have lit­tle in­sight into his con­di­tion - a se­vere anx­i­ety dis­or­der that was only di­ag­nosed years later. He was also even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed as be­ing on the autism spec­trum.

That di­ag­no­sis was made by medics in Lon­don, af­ter a frus­trat­ing time for the Walker fam­ily in the UAE as they tried to fig­ure out just what was wrong with Ethan.

Ethan’s mum Anne de­cided to tell their story be­cause they feel there is in­ad­e­quate sup­port for such fam­i­lies in the UAE.

She and her hus­band at­tend and help out with the Louis Smith Foun­da­tion, a par­ent sup­port group set up by fel­low ex­pat Lisa Bar­foot-Smith.

Anne de­cided to seek help over­seas af­ter a visit to one hos­pi­tal in the UAE re­sulted in her son, then eight, be­ing re­strained to a bed for three hours. She said he had be­come highly dis­tressed, bat­tling with anx­i­ety, but it seemed medics had lit­tle idea how to han­dle him.

“When we reached the hos­pi­tal, he was so dis­tressed, they de­cided to re­strain him - the old­fash­ioned way,” she said. “They strapped him to a bed with belts and gave him medicine to calm him down.”

Anne added: “We stayed the night in an­other hos­pi­tal but they said there wasn’t a suit­able doc­tor to treat Ethan there ei­ther, and he was dis­charged the next day. When Ethan woke up, he could not un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing.”

For Anne and hus­band Scott it marked what they see as the cul­mi­na­tion of fail­ures by men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing the Dhs1,600 ses­sions and pre­scribed anti-de­pres­sants at Dhs800 per bot­tle.

Anne said Ethan, now 10, be­came with­drawn at the age of six.

“He would not leave the house and had no in­ter­est in things that would nor­mally ex­cite him,” she said.

Af­ter the sum­mer break of 2012, Ethan didn’t want to re­turn to school in Dubai.

She said: “He would usually be ex­cited about school, but two weeks af­ter sum­mer break, he didn’t want to go and we could not work out why.” She con­tin­ued: “When some­one that young can’t ex­press them­selves, it comes out in re­sis­tance and ag­gres­sion. “Ethan would be hit­ting and kick­ing, it was ter­ri­fy­ing be­cause he was a great kid.” A year later, Ethan stopped go­ing to school and started look­ing un­well. “He was over eat­ing, never slept and was com­pletely iso­lated,” said Anne. “The day be­fore his eighth birth­day, Ethan said ‘I want to die’.” The trip to the gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal came af­ter that. By the end of 2015, Ethan’s con­di­tion had wors­ened and he was vis­ited at home by a doc­tor from the Maud­s­ley Clinic in Abu Dhabi, a branch of the UK hos­pi­tal. The doc­tor sug­gested ad­mit­ting him to the in-pa­tient fa­cil­ity for ob­ser­va­tion. “They ad­vised us to take him to the Beth­lem Royal Hos­pi­tal in Lon­don,” said Anne. “He started in Fe­bru­ary, it has all the right fa­cil­i­ties. “My hus­band and I would take turns to fly there ev­ery week­end to be with Ethan.” The doc­tors con­cluded Ethan was suf­fer­ing from an anx­i­ety dis­or­der and di­ag­nosed him of be­ing on the autism spec­trum. “I asked many health pro­fes­sion­als in the UAE if my child could have autism, all of them said no,” Anne added. Ethan was dis­charged from Beth­lem Royal on May 4, with great re­views. Anne said: “One of them con­grat­u­lated me, say­ing Ethan was so po­lite. “Some­one telling me I have done a good job - com­pared to peo­ple here sug­gest­ing I review my par­ent­ing skills - was amaz­ing.” When ap­proached by 7DAYS, Health Author­ity Abu Dhabi (HAAD) de­clined to com­ment on the sub­ject of chil­dren with men­tal health is­sues. Dubai Health Author­ity (DHA) said it is a case for the Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Author­ity Dubai, which did not re­spond to an at­tempt to con­tact them by email.

ON TRACK: Af­ter four years and nu­mer­ous doc­tors, Ethan is fi­nally on the road to re­cov­ery

MORE SUP­PORT: Chil­dren with men­tal health is­sues need spe­cial sup­port and doc­tors and par­ents need to know how to spot the signs

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