Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Mental health help in the UAE: five organisations to know about

Here are some of the UAE's most helpful mental health support networks, including three that only launched this year

There are some key organisations across the UAE that can help those struggling in terms of mental health. Illustration / Getty Images
There are some key organisations across the UAE that can help those struggling in terms of mental health. Illustration / Getty Images

There has been a flurry of activity in the UAE’s mental health scene in recent months, with new communities, support groups and online resources popping up, offering alternatives to standard therapy. We look at five of the best ways to lighten your emotional load.

1. Run Talk Run

If you find it easier to process your feelings on the move, Run Talk Run is a mental health support group that uses running as a platform to help people open up. It was created in London and now has chapters across the world. Yousef Lahej launched the Dubai group last month.

“I noticed that I found it easier to open up and talk when running,” he explains. “It’s not a formal location and you aren’t looking at each other over a coffee. You are simply two people out running and having a chat.

“Exercise triggers the release of happy hormones, as does being outside. For some people, simply having a reason to leave the house is beneficial.”

If your running trainers haven’t seen the light of day for a while, fret not. While exercise is ­definitely a part of it, racing isn’t. The emphasis is on the group experience and there is even a system called “swanning”, whereby the fastest runners loop round to the back of the group to make sure everyone is together.

“We aren’t running for pace or for distance,” says Lahej. “It’s more about the talking. The more you do it, the more those conversations start to come out.”

Run Talk Run Dubai meets on Saturdays at 6pm at the start of the Jumeirah Beach running track, www.facebook.com/runtalkrundubai

2. Leaves Dubai

Divorce can throw people into a state of total emotional and mental breakdown. Legal battles, debates about child custody, financial issues and casting blame can all result in a ­deeply traumatic experience.

Leaves Dubai, a group for women going through difficulties in their marriage or divorce, recognises this and offers regular meetups and online support.

Founder Anne Jackson is a therapist and coach who specialises in helping people in difficult relationship situations. She set up Leaves eight years ago to help women find others in the same situation who they could talk to.

“Some women are being financially abused and can’t afford to pay for therapy,” she says. “Others can come for therapy, but still need other forms of support so that they don’t feel like they are going through it alone. Friends and family don’t always want to hear about it, or talk about it. Finding people who are going through the same struggles at the same time is empowering.”

Leaves meets every second Tuesday from 8pm to 10pm, www.facebook.com/LeavesDubai

3. Mental Health UAE

This year, two UAE residents were united by the plight of a mutual friend suffering from mental health problems. Faced with a lack of information, the duo, Ali Khawaja and Latifa bin Haider, took action and founded a comprehensive online directory and support network for all things mental health in the country.

“We are compiling information on the website to do with therapists, free therapy tools and lots more,” they explain. “We will be launching monthly events, talks, seminars, support groups and an app. Currently the UAE doesn’t have a suicide helpline, so we want to make sure there is somewhere for people to turn when they need someone to talk to, even if they don’t have the money for therapy.”


4. 12-step programmes

Alcoholics Anonymous offers life-changing – and often life-­saving – support for people struggling with addictions.

Whether it’s struggles with alcohol, drugs, overeating, codependency or any other type of addictive behaviour, there is likely to be a branch that meets regularly near you.

Additionally, there are sessions for the family and friends of addicts, where advice and support is offered from people who have been through similar situations.

“The aim of the programme is to bring about lasting change in the addict, so that he or she can participate in life and cope with it, without falling back to their previous behaviour,” says an AA representative in the UAE. “This is supported by a fellowship of like-minded and experienced people and becomes a way of life that most 12-steppers adopt with joy and happiness.”

With regular meetings happening daily and 24-hour phone lines also available for those in need, help is always at hand for those who seek it.

“Through meetings, literature, shared experiences and members helping each other, the 12-step programmes are proven consistently to work,” the representative says. “Those who wish to stop drinking, or their addictive habit, can benefit from this programme.”


5. Safe Space

Safe Space arrived on the scene in January, promising to find ways to provide free community mental health support through events, partnerships and other strategies.

On its website, it says it wants to create a welcome home for people to share, learn and grow.

“We identify spaces in the community, such as a coffee shop, a board room, or a yoga studio, and we make that space safe by bringing professionals together with people who need support,” says Dani Hakim, who founded Safe Space alongside Helen Hope and Leanne Sherlock. “We want to help people who may not have mental health support covered by health insurance, by giving them the chance to share their thoughts and stories with others and with experts, so they can heal through that process.”


Updated: October 26, 2019 01:10 PM