Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 September 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: UAE sets up free national helpline to support mental health

People coping with stress, fear or anxiety can call toll-free support line 800-4673 (Hope)

The 800-4673 helpline is available in Arabic and English. Razan Alzayani / The National
The 800-4673 helpline is available in Arabic and English. Razan Alzayani / The National

A national hotline has been set up in the UAE to support the mental health of vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Run by the UAE National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing (NPHW), the hotline will help people cope with stress, fear and anxiety.

Ohoud Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing, said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of supporting those with mental health conditions.

Those in need can call on toll-free support line, 800-4673 (Hope) or connect on WhatsApp to speak directly with specialists.

The service is available in Arabic and English.

In April, the NPHW united 50 social psychology experts to help people who were struggling with loneliness and other mental health problems during the pandemic.

One of those volunteers was Marie Byrne, a professional counsellor from Ireland who works in Dubai.

Marie Byrne, a professional counsellor, was one of the volunteers of the NPHW’s wellbeing initiative in April. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Marie Byrne, a professional counsellor, was one of the volunteers of the NPHW’s wellbeing initiative in April. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I volunteered because fear, anxiety and panic attacks as a result of the pandemic were becoming more common,” she said.

“It is important people know how to deal with this negativity to stay healthy and well.

“Having the government involved with this helpline will reduce the stigma associated with mental health and show how they can access more support.”

Ms Byrne, who offers online support at mariewellnessclinic.com, said cognitive behavioural therapy has been a big help to those in need.

A series of steps delivered by a Zoom online meeting helped calm people down and identified what triggered their anxiety.

“If they need to reach out for help, it does not mean they are mentally ill, just that they may be struggling to deal with the current situation,” she said.

“This is a natural response to the change we are all experiencing.

“We are all in this, but some find it difficult to cope and that can have a negative impact on their health, particularly their immune system.

“Giving people access to a mental health first aid box like this will empower them to help themselves.”

Chris Haill, a British dad in Dubai, welcomed the initiative and said such a helpline would have helped him during his mental health challenges earlier this year.

Mr Haill, 53, attempted to take his life in January before police intervened.

After a brief spell in a hospital and counselling, he has since recovered and campaigns for improved national support services for those in crisis.

“It is great news that there is now a proper helpline for those struggling with stress and depression,” he said.

“Most people are now impacted in some way by the coronavirus and that will have a knock-on effect on their mental health.

“Uncertainty has made a huge difference to people.

Chris Haill is thankful for the intervention of police after he contemplated suicide. Leslie Pableo / The National
Chris Haill is thankful for the intervention of police after he contemplated suicide. Leslie Pableo / The National

“To have an option to speak with trained people backed by the government rather than just the hospital or community groups is a big step forward.”

Since revealing his struggles on social media, Mr Haill said more than 250 people have been in contact with him to share similar challenges.

“I would have used this line had it been available,” he said.

“If you know you are speaking to someone who is trained and can empathise, that is hugely reassuring to give you realistic solutions to how you are feeling.

“The option to speak through social media is also very important if someone is not confident about a phone conservation.

“Under the current circumstances, more free online counselling services would also be a big help as people do not always have the finances to pay for professional help.”

There are several other initiatives in the country that have helped people who need reassurance, advise, or a sympathetic ear during this difficult time.

A suicide prevention hotline, exclusively for Indian expatriates, is the first dedicated phone line manned by trained specialist volunteers in the UAE.

Dubai Police also offers a 24-hour support line for those in crisis, while the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children provides counselling to victims of domestic abuse.

The Al Jalila Foundation is also building a free nationwide mental health support network while ICAS International, part of the global AXA Group, operates a global corporate wellbeing programme for employees.

Updated: May 20, 2020 02:35 PM

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