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You are not alone – PRCA Mindworks MENA Mental Health Event


I sit here, sick, a million other tasks clouding my mind, trying to write an article on mental health, and I can’t help but think, ‘when was the last time I took a self-care break?’ 

I know I can’t remember, and you probably can’t either. This is usually the case of about every other university student I know. 

A moving graphic that depicts an individual looking stressed and reading. Rebecca Hendin, (gify)

Isn’t it ironic? We talk about mental health and support those who need us, but somewhere along the way, we forget we need help too. Society has come a long way from mental health being a taboo, but how much has it really changed? 

The PRCA ‘Mindworks MENA’ event began on October 14, posing the question, ‘Are we becoming more empathetic towards mental health challenges due to COVID-19 and is there enough awareness?’.

The students of Middlesex University Dubai were granted access to this webinar whose panel consisted of Paul Firth (Managing director, ICAS MENA), Dani Hakim (Safe space, Co-founder), Dalia Halabi (Mental health counsellor), Dr Saliha Afridi (Clinical psychologist, MD The Lighthouse Arabia), Nashwa Tantawy (Psychologist, Lifeworks) and was hosted by Mimi Nicklin (Bestselling author, podcast host, creative officer, marketing and corporate culture consultant).

United Nations COVID-19 response: ‘Remember to reach out to your neighbours!’
Photo credits: Unsplash

Since COVID19 has come into the picture, everyone is mindful about their mental health. Not only is there mass awareness, but it has reached a point where all of us are going through it collectively. A subsequent effect of this is people being more open to speaking about their struggles. Whether it is the CEO of a company, an employee, or a student. Everyone has struggled at some point or another.

Picture depicts a tired individual in a dark setting with a cup in front of them. Photo credits: Anh Nguyen, Unsplash

How many times have you seen a fellow university student pop into the hospital for a drip? Or maybe because they were feeling poorly and having a few palpitations? Normal right? All of us fall sick sometimes, that’s no big deal.  

But that’s not always the case. Dalia Halabi, a mental health counsellor, cleared the air and explained that one of the most common misdiagnoses of mental health is mistaking it for physical ailments. 

Dr Afridi touched further on these misconceptions, “a lot of us understand what some of these things are theoretically… when you’re in the thick of it, and you’re like oh wait a minute these are all the symptoms. All of a sudden you have to zoom out a little bit because you might actually not recognise it in yourself.”

So, how do you recognise it? 

Here are a few signs to keep an eye out for. You need at least five of these symptoms together for at least two weeks. These should last for most of the day or every day:

  • Low mood; most of the day or every day
  • Losing joy in things you used to enjoy
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too less)
  • Low energy
  • Low concentration
  • Crying
  • Aggression 
  • Excessive worry
  • Substance abuse
  • Harmful thoughts
  • Change in eating patterns
  • Hopelessness 

Now, if you’ve had three bad days, take a break, and hopefully, you’ll feel better. But if you’re facing these symptoms consistently, for more than two weeks, please reach out to someone.

Photo captured through a window on a door depicts an individual with a camera. Photo credits: Unsplash

The mental health stigma in our society falls down to being in a horrible relationship or having a terrible job or extreme workload.

But guess what? 

You can struggle with mental health even when you’re doing what you love.

When talking to someone struggling, stereotyped responses like, ‘be happy you have a great job’, ‘just be grateful’ or ‘you have food at the table’ don’t help. These can make things worse.

Allow yourself to breathe sometimes, and it is okay to take a break. Photo credits: Unsplash

We’ve oversimplified mental health and taken it upon ourselves to diagnose and treat people. We often like to classify emotions as good or bad, ‘I’m sad. Oh no! Put on a smile.’,  ‘I’m anxious. Oh, shoot! Toughen up. It’s nothing.’ etc. While speaking to someone helps, it’s not that simple.

Then what can we do? Therapy is expensive.

Well, for one, it’s okay to not be okay. Remember that.

When asked this question, Dr Saliha advised us to seek out for safe spaces and people who can actually help us.

But we know therapy can often be pricey, and being university students, we’re almost always in a financial dilemma (yeah, I’m looking at you Starbucks lovers). A few tips the panellists gave that could help out were:

  • Eat the right amount and the right kinds of food.
  • Work out – invest in your physical health, even if it’s just a walk a day.
  • DO NOT compromise on your sleep — you need the rest.
  • Social media detox – Going out or talking to your friends is a great way to stay off social media. Personally, I never wanted to do this. But ever since I’ve taken a social media break, I feel less overwhelmed. I don’t even want to go back!
  • Go to support groups if therapy is not an option.

You can also reach out to Ms Aditi Bhatia for the university wellness group or ring the government emergency hotline if you’re ever feeling low –  HOPE (800-4673)

Photo depicts a neon sign that reads “Things will be fine” on a wall. Photo credits: Unsplash

We are all faced with challenges at some point in life. We all struggle, but in that case, “How do you help yourself and those around you?”

Dr Tantawy elaborated on this and explained that, if we’re suffering, being alone is not going to help us. A sense of connectedness with each other is essential. We might not be going through the same issues but knowing that you’re not alone, goes miles. You are not alone.

One in four of us struggle with mental health problems. So look around, and choose your words carefully. Sometimes you may feel like you’re trapped in your own mind, and it might seem like there is no escape. Letting people in can seem daunting, but it’s much better than keeping it all boxed in.

Public Eye, a Middlesex University social club, brought together over 30 students to put together a poem for World Mental Health Day, which took place on October 10.

Togetherness: The Path to Healing by Public Eye

Quoting from their video,

‘And lastly, remember, whatever it is.

You will get through this.

We will get through this.

Together.’

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